Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Thursday touted an Obama administration announcement as an “important step forward” as the governor makes a renewed push for offshore wind power.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, appearing with O’Malley in Baltimore, said the federal government has concluded that wind energy projects off the Mid-Atlantic coast would cause no significant environmental damage.
The finding removes one of several expected regulatory hurdles to wind farm construction sought by O’Malley and governors in other East Coast states.
O’Malley said the development would aid efforts in Maryland and elsewhere to make offshore wind a reality. He stressed that Maryland, which has set a target to obtain a fifth of its energy from renewable sources within a decade, would only reach that goal “if we harness the most available and abundant source of renewable energy in our state, which happens to be the Atlantic wind that rolls by off of our coast.”
The announcement by Salazar makes sections of water off the coasts of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware available for long-term wind energy leases, which Salazar said he hopes to issue later this year.
No offshore wind farms have been built in the U.S., though at least a few are in the planning stages. In 2010 Salazar approved the first U.S. offshore wind farm, being planned for the waters off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, following years of public debate and regulatory review. O’Malley wants Maryland to be among the first states to move an offshore wind project forward.
“We now know which areas off of Maryland are going to be available for lease in a relatively short period of time,” O’Malley said of the state’s allowable zone, about 11 miles off the coast of Ocean City.
If Maryland’s General Assembly approves O’Malley’s plan to subsidize development of offshore wind, and if developers of that wind can obtain federal leases and financing, a project would still be required to pass additional environmental reviews.
But Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, said the move by the Obama administration would allow the government to avoid having to do a full environmental impact statement for specific proposals, potentially reducing the permitting timeline by two years.
At least eight companies have sought the right to lease areas off of Maryland’s coast to develop offshore wind energy, according to federal and state records.
As the regulatory process unfolds, financing of offshore wind is still a major hurdle, given that installing huge wind turbines miles from land requires billions of dollars in capital. To provide “revenue certainty,” O’Malley has proposed requiring electricity generators to obtain a certain percentage of their energy from offshore wind sources. Ratepayers would cover the higher cost of generating the renewable wind energy through higher rates, which the O’Malley administration says would be capped at an extra $2 monthly on electricity bills.
The proposal is different from the one that stalled in the General Assembly last year. That would have required the state’s four investor-owned utilities to enter into long-term contracts with offshore wind developers.