Report Summarizes Offshore Wind Movement In Md.

ANNAPOLIS — With the clock ticking on the expiration of several key federal tax incentives for the development of offshore wind energy off the Atlantic Coast including a proposal in Maryland, a coalition of stakeholders, environmental groups and lawmakers rallied in Annapolis last week to release a new report outlining how far the effort has come thus far and how far it still has to go.

Called “The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy,” the report released last Thursday was prepared by the National Wildlife Federation, Environment America Research and Policy Center and many partner organizations including Environment Maryland. The report takes a fresh look at how far offshore wind has advanced in Maryland and the entire Atlantic coast and the work still be done. The coalition of partners released the report during a rally in front of the State House in Annapolis.

The timing of the report release and rally was critical because several key tax credits and other incentives for the development of offshore wind energy in Maryland and all of the coastal states along the Atlantic are set to expire by the end of the year. Those who rallied in Annapolis urged Congress to renew the important incentives and called on Maryland lawmakers to pass legislation during the coming General Assembly session to move offshore wind energy closer to becoming a reality.

“In the race up and down the Atlantic to have the first offshore wind project, Maryland could make history,” said Environment Maryland Executive Director Tommy Landers. “To get us over the finish line so we can start producing pollution-free energy and creating local job from offshore wind development, our leaders must act now, first by demanding that Congress extend the offshore wind tax credit before it expires at the end of the year, and pass a strong offshore wind bill in Annapolis.”

According to the report, the designated area off the coast of Ocean City and other similar areas up and down the east coast are ideal locations for offshore wind energy because of the population density and the associated high demand for electricity. With several steps already taken in Maryland, getting the federal tax credits extended and passing a bill in the upcoming General Assembly session is paramount to continuing the momentum, according to Maryland Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton, who spoke at the rally.

“We need to pass a bill in 2013 that will set us up to build offshore wind turbines off our shore,” he said. “It’s about being ready and having everything in place so we can act.”

The section of the report released yesterday specific to Maryland outlines the steps that have been taken thus far and what has to happen next to continue that momentum.

The report found Maryland could install nearly 15,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy using current technology, which would be enough to satisfy 67 percent of the state’s current energy needs, but that number could be ambitious in the short term. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has identified a formal wind energy area (WEA) for Maryland about 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City. It covers about 94 square miles, or roughly 79,000 acres. Early proposals have called for anywhere from 40 to 100 wind turbines off the coast of the resort and depending on that final number, the offshore wind farm off the coast could generate as much as 1,000 megawatts.

In February, BOEM finalized its regional Environmental Assessment (EA) of the wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic including Maryland and concluded no significant impacts would result from issuing leases to developers for site assessments. BOEM has received six expressions of interest from developers for Maryland’s wind energy area. As a result, BOEM will grant leases through an auction process and leases could be issued as soon as early 2013.

This year, a $30 million Offshore Wind Development Fund was established in Maryland as a result of the merger between Exelon and Constellation Energy. In July, the Maryland Energy Administration issued a request for proposals to conduct geophysical survey studies of the areas off the coast of Ocean City using this funding. The studies will provide critical information to developers and will likely lower the cost of development, according to the new report released on Thursday.

A key hurdle to be overcome remains approval from the Maryland General Assembly to allow the process to move forward. O’Malley’s Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012 was passed by the House by an 88-47 vote, but never came to vote in the Senate. Similar legislation is expected to be proposed in the upcoming 2013 session.

While the legislation has stumbled in the General Assembly, the report released last week suggests there is strong public support for the development of offshore wind energy in Maryland.

According to the report, a recent poll found that 62 percent of Marylanders support offshore wind energy development off the state’s coast even if it meant paying a couple dollars more on their monthly energy bills.