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  April 27, 2017

Will Maryland Pioneer Offshore Wind Farming in America?

Despite a climate-denying federal government, two new offshore wind farms could bring thousands of clean jobs to Maryland's Sparrow's Point
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KAYLA RIVARA: While the Trump Administration is going full speed ahead with fossil fuel extraction, some states are going in a different direction; a new poll shows that a whopping 71% of Maryland voters support doubling the state's commitment to wind and solar power. Maryland's Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, recently signed a fracking ban, and the Maryland Public Service Commission is now considering two proposals for new offshore wind farms.

Maryland would be the first state in the U.S. to embrace this technology on a large scale. The company Deepwater Wind, is proposing to build 15 turbines off the coast of Ocean City. Another company, U.S. Wind, is proposing a larger farm with 187 turbines, which could be completed by year 2022. Both companies say they will build manufacturing facilities in Baltimore County, Sparrow's Point, the historically industrial neighborhood that was home to the now defunct Bethlehem Steel Mill, which once employed thousands.

LAQEISHA GREENE: The community was so... was, you know... was widespread dependent upon those jobs there at Bethlehem Steel. When they left, you know, it pretty much devastated the City.

KAYLA RIVARA: Many advocates like Laqeisha Greene see the potential to bring back jobs to a community that's still reeling from the effects of deindustrialization.

LAQEISHA GREENE: Now, to know that we have an opportunity to bring back the wealth that it brought, just to having good paying jobs can bring to a city, is an awesome opportunity. You know, that would allow me as a single parent, and a lot of other single parents that I know out here, an opportunity to actually be able to pay your bills, and have benefits to take care of your children when they get sick, and have those insurance in place.

JENNIFER KUNZE: It would bring jobs to the Eastern shore. It would bring jobs to Ocean City. It would bring jobs to Baltimore City, where the first manufacturing plant for offshore wind turbines in the United States could be built.

KAYLA RIVARA: Clean Water Actions, Jennifer Kunze says the project would not only serve as a job creator, but also provide a path to a clean energy future.

JENNIFER KUNZE: Offshore wind is this tremendous opportunity for Maryland, to both fight climate change in a really real way. This is also an opportunity to move away from methods of producing our energy that have tremendously worse impacts than off-shore wind.

KAYLA RIVARA: Environmental Integrity Project attorney, Leah Kelly, says that Baltimore residents would have much to gain from a clean energy transition.

LEAH KELLY: Baltimore City has over twice the state average rate for asthma; between two to three times depending on the year, the number of asthma hospitalizations. And so, especially, for this area, transitioning to green energy, and transitioning to a green energy economy, is really, really critical.

KAYLA RIVARA: At a Maryland Public Service Commission hearing on March 30th, every person who testified was in support of the project, including Union members, elected officials, and youth.

DELEGATE ROBBYN LEWIS: We know that wind power offers incredible economic and health benefits. Some of my colleagues have talked to you already about the potential economic benefits this new technology and manufacturing offers. Baltimore was a center for industry, I'm sure you all know this; we were makers, not takers.

Baltimore was a bold builder of things and goods. Baltimore was a place where everyone once had a job. We can be that place again. I believe that the wind power manufacturing plant can help us get back to where we were, and help us get our groove back, for the people of our region.

LEAH BECKER: Every child will be affected by climate change. By 2100, the projected temperature will be 3 to 12 degrees higher; with much more frequent natural disasters such as droughts or hurricanes. Maybe you think that's not a big deal. But I don't want to live in a world with coastal flooding from ice caps melting, hurricanes, droughts from climate change, earthquakes from fracking.

We need to switch to more sustainable energy like wind, to make sure that our lives, us, children's lives do not turn into dystopian stories. I feel like we are the Titanic, sinking as we speak.

KAYLA RIVARA: But some have raised concerns that offshore wind farms will hurt tourism for communities that heavily rely on it, like Ocean City, Maryland. Ocean City Councilman, Matt James told the OC Today, "We have a lot of waterfront properties in Ocean City. And a lot of people come to enjoy the view. I just think at night, with the red flashing lights, during the day, 187 wind turbines will negatively impact that view."

Councilman, Denis Dare added, "If even a small percentage of our visitors dislike the look of this, it can be a big loss." Developer U.S. Wind has since addressed these concerns in a recent statement, which said that they will work to shift the location of the wind farm five miles further offshore, which U.S. Wind says will reduce the visibility of the turbines by more than 35%.

DR. ARJUN MAKHIJANI: But I do think it is much better to look at your energy source than to dump on your children.

KAYLA RIVARA: We spoke with Dr. Arjun Makhijani an independent analyst, and President of The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

DR. ARJUN MAKHIJANI: We do that with coal mining, we do that with oil and gas, we do that with fracking, we do that with nuclear. So, just because you're not seeing the impact doesn't excuse it. Renewable energy is not an end in itself, but we're trying to be light on the Earth.

KAYLA RIVARA: The $1.9 billion subsidy for the project is estimated to increase consumers' electricity bills by $1.50 a month. Makhijani says the State of Maryland should reconsider a proposal that limits consumer energy bills to 6% of their income. Such a proposal was rejected in 2012.

DR. ARJUN MAKHIJANI: It was thought to be too expensive, but I think it was a not a good calculation, because every time somebody becomes homeless because they can't pay their energy bills, or water bills, or rent, or they can't manage all their bills, it may cost tens of thousands of dollars in costs of added shelter; in costs of added emergency medical care.

KAYLA RIVARA: The Real News asked Makhijani if Maryland was taking an economic risk by being the first major producer of offshore wind energy in the U.S.? He responded by noting Europe's 25-year experience with offshore wind, and the five turbines already in use in Rhode Island.

DR. ARJUN MAKHIJANI: Offshore wind turbines have been operating commercially in Europe since 1991. So, it has a 25-plus-year track record. Five turbines went up in Rhode Island last year and started operating. The track record of wind energy now is excellent. Their reliability is excellent.

The United States with 300 million people and the largest technological infrastructure in the world, is nowhere -- not because it's not a proven technology, or doesn't have a track record -- but because the United States has been too timid, too backward, and too beholding to fossil fuel interests to have a real clean energy policy. That is my view.

JENNIFER KUNZE: We would be the first state in the country to make a huge investment in offshore wind, and Baltimore could be the first city in the country to manufacture offshore wind.

KAYLA RIVARA: But Greene says if the project is going to come to fruition, people will have to keep showing their support.

LAQEISHA GREENE: Stay active, and being active doesn't necessarily mean you have to go out there and be in every march. You know staying active can mean just as simple as just, you know, signing your name to a post card to tell City Hall that this is something that you support.

KAYLA RIVARA: The Public Service Commission says it will make its decision by May 17th. The Real News will keep following this story.




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