Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Offshore Wind Energy in Maryland?

            After attempting for the past few years to pass legislation for wind turbines in Ocean City, Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is expected to finally win approval from state lawmakers in the upcoming weeks. However, Washington Post writer Aaron Davis explains, that because of the small power potential of the proposed wind farm (it would only be able to produce the energy of half of one average power plant) “developers and banks probably won’t take the financial risk, experts predict." Although at least six wind farms have been proposed for the eastern shore in the recent past, Davis explains, not a single one has actually been built because of the bureaucratic, financial, and legal challenges that they face. Due to the scaled-back plan the governor has been forced to resort to, as well as the minimal subsidy that Maryland households would have to pay, leading offshore wind developer Peter Mandelstam has stated that it “may [be] difficult or, in a worse case scenario, impossible to build a project off the coast of Maryland” (Davis).  The problem extends to the rest of the nation, where environmentalists and others have argued that wind energy is a sustainable alternative to coal and gas. However, the “nascent wind industry” has been proven enormously difficult to get up and going (Davis). O’Malley’s current bill is his third attempt to pass offshore wind legislation, which calls to begin the project in 2017.
            The article was a bit on the shorter side and really required further reading to understand the issues. The amount of power the wind farm could possibly produce and its possible resulting impact on the state’s nonrenewable energy consumption was not discussed. Author Aaron Davis also describes one of O’Malley’s financing tools as a “model involving renewable energy credits that is unproven in the risky realm of offshore wind”, but does not enlighten the reader on what that scheme is either. Personally, (I presume many of my fellow classmates probably feel the same), I would be thrilled to actually see legislation for an offshore wind farm be pushed through, especially along the eastern shore. This proposed project reminds me of the common theme surrounding environmental economics and natural resource economics and policies- that most often, what is tried and true remains the go-to decision. In environmental economic policy, government interference and regulations in emissions abatement is usually determined as the solution, since newer, inventive market-driven programs (like cap and trade programs and others) tend to intimidate policy makers and the public. I think that this offshore wind farm proposal follows the same theme, and if the country is to truly start investing in sustainable energies, we need to experiment and get our feet wet somewhere.
--Kasey Bolyard

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