Maryland leaders are making a big commitment to offshore windmills in an effort to reach state goals increasing the use of renewable energy sources and making the state a leader in the wind energy industry.

Both Gov. Wes Moore and the General Assembly are pushing those efforts, with Moore reaffirming the state’s effort to reach 100% of energy supplied by renewable sources by 2035 last month at the International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum.

A key part of this development involves increasing the amount of energy produced by offshore wind in the state to 8.5 gigawatts from the roughly two gigawatts under construction. A single gigawatt can power 750,000 homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The comprehensive four-part bill, one of the last agreements lawmakers struck on Monday, would establish a non-binding state goal of 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2031. The bill has cleared both chambers and is on its way to Moore’s desk despite opposition from Eastern Shore communities, who are worried about the impact on Ocean City tourism and marine wildlife.

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That number, the goal of 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2031, is extremely vital, according to Jamie DeMarco of the Chesapeake Climate Network.

The Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management uses these goals to determine how many lease areas will be granted to the state. Leases are granted for 30 years; those within the industry expect Central Atlantic region decisions sometime in late 2023 or early in 2024.

Communicating how much offshore wind power Maryland intends to build could set the tone for the future of the industry.

A second facet of the bill involves transmission, or the process of transporting the power produced by wind turbines to the land.

Currently, two different companies — Baltimore-based U.S. Wind and the Danish company Ørsted — are working in Maryland. Each company is developing its own project and an accompanying transmission line. When future projects are built, each will also require a transmission line.

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But, DeMarco says, having each turbine run its own line back to the shore is an expensive and inefficient way to operate. The goal here is to create the equivalent of a giant power strip to which all future transmission lines can connect.

To achieve this, the Public Service Commission would coordinate with the state’s regional transmission grid to solicit proposals for building the transmission line. Developers could then bid to build the line, the state would pick a winner that fit its list of criteria, and they would collaborate to actually build it. The result would be a shared transmission line, owned and operated by a private entity, that could support future offshore wind infrastructure.

Montgomery County Democrat Del. Lorig Charkoudian is the sponsor of the House version of the bill. The POWER act has local, national, and even global implications, she says.

Wind turbines in the ocean.
Wind turbines in the ocean. (barleyman/Getty Images)

From a business perspective, it could position Maryland as a leader of the industry.

“We’re trying to build, we broadly — the United States, the president of the United States, Congress — are trying to build an offshore wind supply chain in the U.S.,” Charkoudian explained.

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“In Maryland, we have this opportunity to have a lot of that supply chain right here in this state,” she added.

But not everyone sees offshore wind as a glowing opportunity for the state. Multiple lawmakers, most of whom live in the areas closest to where the wind turbines would be built off the coast of Ocean City, are concerned about what the development could mean for their areas and constituents.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, a Republican who represents Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico counties, has expressed opposition to the bill since its initial introduction.

Carozza says she supports exploring alternate avenues for the state’s energy needs, but believes there has not been enough research done on the implications of offshore wind.

Among the areas about which she says she would like to see more information is the impact on the health of marine life and the “true costs to ratepayers and taxpayers.”

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Del. Wayne Hartman, a Republican who represents Ocean City, has also expressed concerns about marine life, citing the numerous instances of dead whales washing ashore in recent months.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has stated that there is no evidence that links offshore wind development to whale deaths. “At this point, there is no evidence to support the theory that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys (e.g., high resolution geophysical surveys) could potentially cause mortality of whales,” the agency said.

The cost issue is a little more complicated. Up front, Charkoudian says, there is no way to determine the financial impact the turbines will have on ratepayers. But, she says, the power grid in Maryland is outdated, and costs will increase whether or not offshore wind is built.

“Our transmission system is in trouble. So we’re going to have to be paying for transmission solutions, in general. And we’re gonna have to pay for solutions that meet the clean energy future,” she says.

“This is part of this question about cost-benefit analysis. Is doing this is more or less expensive than upgrading the transmission system to keep gas plants on? Upgrading the transmission system to keep coal plants on? Continuing to pay for climate change?” Charkoudian says. “It’s a legitimate question, but it is not a black-and-white.”

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Further, ratepayers typically do not pay for transmission up front; they pay for it over time in rates. When an individual pays their electricity bill today, they are paying for some transmission that was constructed decades ago.

Carozza and Ocean City Mayor Richard W. Meehan believe there has not been enough consideration given to what the development could mean for the state’s only coastal beach.

In oppositional testimony to the House committee, Meehan wrote, “We have repeatedly warned that these projects will destroy our view shed, negatively impact our property values, and drive tourists and property owners to other destinations such as Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks where offshore wind is developed far enough offshore to not be visible.”

Proponents, including Charkoudian, argue that though a wind turbine is a massive machine, from the shore it will not be significantly visible when more than 10 miles away. Further, she argues, that view is better than the alternative people may have to face if the state does not invest in clean energy.

“The bottom line is Ocean City will be underwater in a few decades if we don’t act really quickly. And so I think most folks ultimately are going to prefer to squint and see something on the horizon than to not have Ocean City.”

callan.tansillsuddath@thebaltimorebanner.com

Callan Tansill-Suddath covered the Maryland General Assembly for The Baltimore Banner. She previously covered the beat for WYPR 88.1, and Capital News Service, and reported on Montgomery and Prince George's Counties for WAMU/DCist. A native of Silver Spring, Callan holds a Master of Journalism degree from the University of Maryland.

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