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March 18, 2013

Winds of Change in Maryland

MD-offshore-wind-rally

A three-year campaign by the Sierra Club's Maryland Chapter has victory in its sights after the Maryland General Assembly gave final approval to send the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 to Governor Martin O'Malley for his signature.

The state Senate passed its version of the bill by a resounding two-to-one margin on March 8, just over a week after the Maryland House of Delegates passed its version.

"Reconciling the House and Senate bills was the last major hurdle for the bill's passage," says Christine Hill, Maryland Chapter representative for the Club's Beyond Coal campaign. That's Hill, below at right, with colleague Vidal Hines. "With all the door-knocking, hundreds of phone calls and hand-written letters, letters-to-the-editor, rallies, and town hall meetings, this year we were positioned to win."

Vidal-Hines-&-Chris-Hill

"We started this campaign with our allies in 2010 with a town hall meeting in Ocean City, out of which the Maryland Offshore Wind Coalition formed," Hill says. "Ever since then we've kept up a steady campaign of rallies, more town hall meetings, door-knocking, phone-banking, mailings, letters-to-the-editor, and lobbying members of the legislature, positioning ourselves to win."

Below, a 2012 offshore wind rally at the state capitol in Annapolis.

Annapolis-rally

The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act will help develop a 200-megawatt wind project off the coast of Ocean City by requiring electricity suppliers to buy offshore renewable energy credits. The bill has been championed from the get-go by Governor Martin O'Malley, who stands ready to sign the bill into law now that the House and Senate versions of the bill have been reconciled.

Based on a report from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the 200-megawatt project would create some 850 manufacturing and construction jobs for five years and an additional 160 ongoing supply and operations & maintenance jobs thereafter. Additional wind projects in Maryland and throughout the region would lead to a significant new sustainable industry for Maryland workers. The development of offshore wind power is also a boon to public health, as Maryland families stand to save nearly $2 billion in health-related costs over 20 years by transitioning to clean energy.

2012-offshore-wind-rally

Last year, a similar bill passed the Maryland House but stalled in Senate committee. "This time around, we turned naysayers into yes-sayers," Hill says. "It's something else when a key legislator who explicitly opposed the bill in previous years acknowledges the vital role the Sierra Club and our partners played in changing his vote and making this a reality. And our champions in the legislature expressed their support in more ways than just casting a green vote-they wrote op-eds, spoke at rallies, and talked about this bill every chance they got."

"We worked extensively with the Legislative Black Caucus to ensure that students from historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs)are equipped to participate in this emerging industry," says Hill, who lobbied legislators in both houses and worked with the Legislative Black Caucus and other key allies to gain support for the bill.

Vidal-HinesHines, at left, the chapter's clean energy organizer, organized grassroots events in Prince George's County, an African American-majority county where many offshore wind industry jobs would accrue. The county council passed a resolution in support of the bill in February. Hines also promoted offshore wind with HBCUs throughout Maryland.

"HBCUs are educating some of the best engineers in our state," he says. Among the events Hines helped organize was a rally with the Legislative Black Caucus where more than 100 students from HBCUs came out to rally their legislators.

The Maryland Offshore Wind Coalition counts more than 400 organizations among its supporters, including county chambers of commerce, faith groups, unions, small-business owners, potential supply chain businesses, minority business advocates, civil rights groups, student groups, and the state's leading environmental organizations.

Offshore-wind-supporters

The Sierra Club has also been cultivating a deep working relationship with the Maryland NAACP, which named offshore wind as one of their priorities at their annual conference last year. "As a symbol of this relationship, we bought a table at their recent Annual Dinner," says Hill, below with Hines and former Maryland congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.

Hines-Mfume-Hill

The Offshore Wind Energy Act will bring more jobs to historically underrepresented groups, as it includes a $10 million development fund targeted to small and minority businesses to assist them in preparing to participate in the offshore wind supply chain and sets up a task force to study the feasibility of incorporating degree programs into Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Offshore-wind-rally

"Victories like this one can only happen with a strong, amazing, and dedicated team," says Hill, who gives a special shout-out to Hines, Maryland Chapter staffers Josh Tulkin, Laurel Imlay, and Claudia Friedetsky; Maryland Beyond Coal colleagues Lauren Randall, Kim Teplitzly, Seth Long, Vanessa Pierce, and Mark Kresowik; lead volunteers Larry Tierney, Dave O'Leary, and Rich Reis; and all the other Sierra Club and coalition volunteers who contributed their time and energy, made their voices heard, and never gave up.

Editor's note: In a nice piece of serendipity, the Maryland General Assembly gave its final approval to the Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 on March 18, Maryland Chapter Director Josh Tulkin's birthday!


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