Maryland has abundant potential for generating electricity from wind by deploying offshore wind farms. Investing in offshore wind would provide cleaner air and foster a more vibrant economy, while helping to protect healthy ecosystems for future generations of Marylanders.
Everyone in Maryland—from workers in resource-based industries on the Eastern Shore to anglers in Western Maryland—has something to gain from offshore wind development. Capturing the vast potential of offshore wind energy, however, will require the state to take action and provide certainty for developers of offshore wind farms by ensuring that the power they produce will find buyers in the state.
Offshore wind power is Maryland’s single largest renewable energy resource. Developing offshore wind generating capacity is one of the biggest steps Maryland can take to reduce global warming pollution. Maryland cannot tackle global warming and transition to a clean energy grid without tapping into offshore wind power.
- Maryland’s offshore wind power resources could generate the equivalent of roughly two-thirds of the power consumed in the state annually, using technology available today.
- Electricity generated by wind turbines has effectively zero emissions, making it an essential resource for meeting the state’s clean energy goals and global warming pollution reduction targets and for cleaning up our air. Wind power produces no smog or soot, and a single, 500-megawatt (MW) wind farm could reduce global warming pollution by more than 1 million metric tons annually, equal to the pollution emitted by 196,000 passenger vehicles each year.
Developing Maryland’s offshore wind resource would bring benefits to all regions of the state, as soon as a wind farm is built and for years down the road. Below are some of the benefits that various regions of Maryland may achieve from the development of offshore wind power.
- Employment could increase on the Eastern Shore. Already, AC Wind is preparing to open a blade-manufacturing plant in Salisbury that will employ 200 people. In the longer term, the low-lying Eastern Shore could benefit from offshore wind’s contribution to curbing global warming and slowing sea level rise. Sea level is expected to rise by more than a foot in Maryland by 2050 and potentially by 3.4 feet by the end of the century, which could submerge hundreds of square miles of land.
- Offshore wind, together with other measures to cut global warming pollution, can help to maintain the agricultural productivity of Southern Maryland by limiting temperature increases and changes in precipitation patterns due to global warming. By 2050, a projected 2 to 3° F increase in temperature could cause corn and wheat yields to decline by 8 to 14 percent. A drop in agricultural productivity could undermine the economic viability of farms in the region.
- Investment in offshore wind facilities, which require large amounts of steel, could bring an economic boost to Central Maryland, adding thousands of jobs if workers at Baltimore’s Sparrows Point steel mill and other area industries are employed to produce steel and fabricate components. Producing electricity from wind turbines in Maryland and elsewhere could help avoid the hotter and more prolonged heat waves that will hit residents of urban areas in Central Maryland especially hard. Reducing global warming pollution with offshore wind could help avoid some of the 90 additional heat-related deaths projected in Maryland annually by mid-century.
- The entire ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay will benefit as offshore wind’s clean power helps to reduce global warming pollution, stabilizing water temperatures that determine whether rockfish, oysters and crabs can survive in the bay. If emissions rise unabated, by 2100 the bay will be as warm as the ocean off South Florida. With a slower emissions increase, the temperature rise will be more moderate, making the temperature of the bay more like the temperature of the ocean off the Carolinas.
- Electricity from offshore wind produces no solid waste that must be disposed of, unlike electricity from coal burning. For the Capital Region, this means that the Westland and Brandywine coal ash dumps could receive less toxic waste from coal plants, lowering the risk of groundwater contamination. Obtaining emissions-free electricity from offshore wind is also one of the key steps Maryland must take to reduce the future severity of heavy precipitation events that can cause flooding across the region.
- Emissions-free offshore wind will help to preserve the current mix of trees that make up the forests in the mountains of Western Maryland. Limiting temperature increases due to global warming will help to maintain the maples, beeches and birches that cover three-quarters of the region. In addition, clean electricity from wind power can replace electricity from dirty, coal-fired power plants and will hasten the day when fish caught in the region’s lakes are free of mercury and are safe for human consumption.
Building an offshore wind farm will help Maryland begin to capture the environmental, public health and economic benefits of reducing consumption of electricity from coal-fired power plants. While a single wind farm will not solve all problems of the state’s current dependence on dirty sources of electricity, construction of an initial wind farm will put Maryland on the right path. Ultimately, tapping into the full potential of the wind off Maryland’s coasts will deliver even greater benefits. To encourage the development of offshore wind power:
- The Maryland Public Service Commission should solicit proposals for construction of wind-powered electricity generation off Maryland’s coast and establish effective incentives to encourage offshore wind development.
- State and federal governments should set bold goals for offshore wind development in the Atlantic, in order to provide clear leadership and vision regarding the important role of offshore wind in America’s energy future and to demonstrate that it is a high priority.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior should expedite siting regulations for offshore wind projects in federal waters, while maintaining a high level of environmental protection. In so doing, they should maintain strong standards to make sure that offshore wind facilities do not have major impacts on wildlife, shipping channels, commercial fishing grounds or military operations.
- The federal government should use its buying power to facilitate the financing of offshore wind. The government should negotiate long-term power purchase agreements with an offshore wind developer covering electricity purchases for military installations and other federal facilities.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her son.