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Backers still want Md. wind bill

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland is pressing ahead to spur development of an offshore wind energy industry even as the failure of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s marquee energy proposal before the General Assembly promises to delay the effort.

“It definitely sets us back in the race, but it does not count us out by any means,” said Tom Carlson, state campaign director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Europe has been doing this since 1991. Japan has wind turbines that survived the tsunami. There’s no doubt we’re way behind in the game already.”

Abigail Hopper, the governor’s energy advisor, said the year-long delay would not move Maryland back in line among East Coast states. But she said the bill’s failure will not help the state gain on Massachusetts and Delaware, which are further along in the wind farm permitting process, and New Jersey, which has carved out renewable energy incentives for offshore wind.

“It’s one less feather in our cap. It’s more challenging that way, but it’s still an industry we want to go after,” she said. “I think offshore wind is coming, it’s just a matter of when.”

O’Malley’s legislation would have required the state’s electric utilities to buy 400 megawatts to 600 megawatts of generating capacity from offshore wind turbines for at least 25 years.

Building and operating a wind farm to meet the governor’s goal would create 2,000 construction and manufacturing jobs and 400 permanent jobs, the administration estimated.

Legislative leaders killed the bill’s chances this year as the session drew closer to its Monday close as lawmakers remained concerned about the cost to consumers, which the governor proposed to cap at $2 per month for average residential customers.

Hopper said she and the Department of Business and Economic Development have been seeking Maryland companies that could participate in the wind energy industry to connect them with wind turbine manufacturers, an effort that will continue.

A study published in March by Environment Maryland and the United Steelworkers — both staunch backers of the governor’s bill — estimated 150 existing businesses in the state employing 7,000 could manufacture parts for wind turbines. Another 980 businesses with 20,000 workers could play supporting roles, the study found.

Wind turbines have 8,000 components, according to the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, a lobbying group supported by wind power developers.

“If you make widgets for trucks or some other piece of equipment, and we need widgets for turbines, we’re going to find you,” Hopper said.

The governor’s team will also be meeting with community colleges to explore the possibility of adding programs to teach the skills needed to build and operate offshore wind farms. And O’Malley could sweeten the pot for manufacturers and construction companies with economic incentives, Hopper said.

O’Malley had proposed a bill that would have made companies in the industry eligible for up to $50 million in state incentives for moving to or expanding in the state, but he withdrew that legislation.

State officials had expected the first turbines to be spinning off Maryland’s coast in 2016. The decision by legislative leaders to study O’Malley’s proposal over the summer and bring it up again next year will likely move that date back, but by how much is uncertain.

“It may delay it a little bit, but a lot of that timeline is because of the federal process,” Hopper said.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated 207 square miles off the state’s Atlantic coast for wind farm development. Eight developers have expressed interest, Hopper said, but the department still must go through more environmental studies and request formal bids before settling on a winner.

She said an American Wind Energy Association conference in Baltimore in October will help promote the state’s offshore potential. That group’s offshore wind power meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11-13.

And having another year to work on the proposal and find businesses that could benefit from the industry’s growth in Maryland will help advocates build support in advance of the 2012 legislative session, Carlson said.

“This is our No. 1 natural resource for Maryland,” he said. “It’s limitless.”