Big Push for Offshore Wind Power in Maryland
After Governor Martin O'Malley's Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012 passed in the state House of Delegates on March 30 by an overwhelming 88-47 vote, hundreds of Marylanders from across the state gathered in Annapolis on April 2 to show their support for the bill as the Senate prepared to vote.
Working as part of Marylanders for Offshore Wind Power—a coalition of environmental, labor, faith, business, and community groups who have joined together to help spur the development of offshore wind energy off Maryland's coast—the Sierra Club helped turn out more than 500 citizen activists from different backgrounds to listen to the governor (below), members of the House, and other wind advocates.
"It would be absolutely nuts for us, as an Atlantic state, not to want to be one of the first to harness the most available, renewable resource we have out there," said O'Malley.
The Maryland Sierra Club has been working for two years to promote the Offshore Wind Energy Act, which would jumpstart an offshore wind industry that is expected to create thousands of clean energy jobs and provide a huge share of Maryland's power in the decades to come.
Student organizations, nurses, religious groups, and minority businesses were among those who spoke in support of offshore wind. Maryland Sierra Club organizer Christine Hill (below) helped organize the Annapolis rally.
"Energy experts agree that America’s coastline from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is one of the best places in the world for wind turbines," she said. "It is a region of shallow water, very windy conditions, and it's right next to 64 million electricity users from Boston to Charlotte. A multi-billion dollar wind industry is coming soon—guaranteed—to this region as a solution to our twin challenges of energy independence and intensifying global warming."
After the last of the speakers finished and darkness fell, the crowd created a continuous circle around the statehouse, holding glow-in-the-dark windmills and singing, "All we are saying is give wind a chance."
"As the Offshore Wind Energy Act continued to the Senate, the message was unified," said Sierra Club intern Julia Benjamin, who was at the rally. "Offshore wind is right for Maryland, and the right time for it is now!"
But maddeningly—despite having more than enough votes on the Senate floor—the bill failed to come to a vote after the Senate Finance Committee deadlocked 5-5 and the eleventh member of the committee declined to vote. The committee chair said the panel would not pass the bill on to the full Senate unless it had firm majority support within the committee. And so it was tabled for this legislative session.
"Annapolis insiders say we didn't get the sixth vote not because of the substance of the bill, but because of petty political grudges within the committee," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
As reported by Offshore Wind Wire: "The sixth vote that failed to materialize was that of Prince George's County Senator Anthony Muse. His reluctance to support this bill came despite mounting pressure within his own district that included many minority-owned businesses. These businesses would have benefitted directly through the thousands of jobs that would have been created to build and maintain an offshore wind farm. A spokesman from his office cited the cost to ratepayers to explain Senator Muse's opposition to this plan."
The estimated additional cost to ratepayers is $2 per household per month—less than $25 a year. In a new poll conducted in January, nearly two-thirds of Marylanders surveyed supported offshore wind development, even with the additional $2 per month factored in. More than 70 percent expect the cost of fossil fuels to rise in the years to come, and over 75 percent believe the state needs to "move toward renewable energy sources like wind power."
The Sierra Club made a major push to get the Maryland House and Senate to pass the bill, holding phone banks and sending out action alerts urging Sierra Club and coalition members to call or write key legislators. And when the bill passed the House by nearly a 2-to-1 margin on March 30, hopes were high that it would become law this legislative session, as Senate support appeared solid.
"After so much work, this defeat is bitter," said Tidwell. "But we came within a hair's breadth of passing a policy that would truly jumpstart an offshore wind industry in the mid-Atlantic states. We will pass this bill in 2013, we will transform Maryland's clean energy economy, we will do our part for global climate justice, and we will continue to build our dynamic coalition of voters from the worlds of faith, labor, civil rights, business, health, and conservation."
Christine Hill says that although Europe has been building offshore wind farms for some time now, in the states it is a new and innovative idea. "It takes some time for the passage of these bills to play out," she said. "We got a long way this session with the Offshore Wind Energy Act passing out of the house. Next year I am confident it will pass out of both."
All photos by Josh Lopez.