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February 14, 2012 1:13 am

Students Lobby to Pass Offshore Wind Energy Bill

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The answer to Maryland’s renewable energy needs might be blowing in the wind. Students all over campus are signing a petition to show their support for the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012, also known as Senate Bill 237/House Bill 441. SEAC, Saint Mary’s Student Environmental Action Coalition, is sponsoring this petition, and has joined forces with the Maryland Student Climate Coalition to host a student organized Wind Works rally. The rally will be held on Feb. 22, at 10:30 a.m. in Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. Many students will be arriving early to attend lobby meetings with their district representatives.

SEAC President, Ashok Chandwaney says, “I’m overwhelmed and shocked by the outpouring of support. Within the first hour of petitioning, over 10 percent of the student body had signed. Today, we’re past 25 percent.”

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The passing of this bill would incentivize the installation of 80 to 200 wind turbines ten nautical miles off of the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. This would create 400 to 600 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable energy. The Maryland Energy Administration estimates that this would produce enough electricity to power 79 percent of all of the homes on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, or more than half of the homes in Baltimore city.

The benefits of the Offshore Wind Energy Act are considerable. As reported by the New York Academy of Sciences, a 500 MW offshore wind project would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 945,000 tons per year. This would help to reduce the 13,000 premature deaths caused each year by burning coal, would improve air and water quality, and would slow our current rate of climate change.

President Urgo has been a strong supporter of offshore wind and has sent letters of support to the Speaker of the House of Delegates, and the President of the Senate in favor of this bill.

He said, “I think wind, as we know, is a largely untapped resource,” though President Urgo remains sensitive to concerns regarding local military operations.

There have been some concerns that wind farms could disrupt radar of military air traffic control systems. These concerns are incredibly important, however The Guardian reports it is possible to produce wind turbines with stealth aircraft technology. This technique renders the turbines effectively invisible to radar.

These wind turbines pose little to no threat to birds and bats as some wind turbines do, as they would be far enough offshore where birds and bats do not fly. Furthermore, the turbines would be far enough offshore so that they would not create an eyesore to beachgoers.

Building windmills is good for jobs and the Maryland economy. A total of 2,400 jobs would be created, 2,000 jobs in manufacturing and construction for the next 5 years, and an additional 400 ongoing supply and Operation and Maintenance jobs thereafter. Based on analysis by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the total economic impact of offshore wind in the next 5 years is more than $1.9 billion, 8,200 job-years, and $14 million in state tax revenue.

Opponents of this bill often cite electricity rate increases as a key impediment to their support.  The Maryland Energy Administrations confirms that offshore wind would cause an initial rate increase of approximately $1.44 on residential monthly bills in 2016, yet this amount is predicted to decrease each year thereafter. This initial rate increase, $1.44, is roughly equivalent to the amount of money that could be saved by changing two 60-watt to energy efficient compact fluorescents. While wind capital costs are high compared to fossil fuels, the fuel cost is zero as wind is free, making operational costs competitive. The benefit of price stability in the long term with wind outweighs this initial rate increase. Offshore wind would be likely to create a reliable hedge against the volatile prices of increasingly scarce fossil fuels.

Maryland currently imports about 90 percent of the renewable energy needed to meet the Maryland Renewable Portfolio Standard. This requires electricity suppliers to use renewable energy sources to generate a minimum percentage of their retail sales. This percentage is staggered and increases slowly each year so that Maryland’s energy portfolio is required to include at least 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2022. Development of this offshore wind project will create enough clean energy to satisfy between 10 to 15 percent of Maryland’s 2022 renewable energy goals.

Anyone interested in getting more involved with the Maryland Offshore Wind Campaign or that would like to show support by attending the Annapolis Wind Works rally should email smcmseac@gmail.com. Meetings are on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. in Goodpaster 117, all are welcome.

 

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