A wind power company wants to build a manufacturing and assembly plant for wind turbines at an old shipyard in Sparrows Point, and Baltimore County government is seeking a federal grant to help jump start the project.
County officials have applied for a $26 million grant that would pay for rebuilding piers and bulkheads at the shipyard, which is next to the former Bethlehem Steel mill property.
Paul Rich, development director for US Wind, said he thinks Sparrows Point could assemble turbines not only for his company's project, but for wind farms up and down the East Coast.
"It's really on the cusp of taking off," Rich said of the Atlantic Coast's nascent wind industry.
US Wind is a Baltimore-based firm that's an offshoot of Renexia, part of an Italian construction corporation that is active in wind development in Europe. The company wants to have its Atlantic Ocean wind farm near Ocean City up and running in 2020, and is pursuing federal and state approvals.
Rich said it's important for Maryland to jump in early on the wind industry by having part of the supply pipeline at Sparrows Point.
The federal grand would "help get this off the ground," he said.
The Department of Transportation's TIGER grants — Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — are designed for construction projects that improve transportation and provide economic development opportunities. The current year's TIGER grants total $500 million.
TIGER grants will be awarded this summer, said Clark Pettig, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation. He couldn't say how many applications have been submitted.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said a wind-related plant fits with the vision for redeveloping the Sparrows Point industrial area, and could bring 900 jobs.
After the steel mill closed for good in 2012, Kamenetz led an effort to brainstorm uses for the Sparrows Point peninsula's industrial properties. The resulting report identified wind turbine assembly as a possible use for the shipyard property.
"We always had the vision," Kamenetz said. "We're delighted our concepts are bearing fruit."
County Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, said he's "cautiously optimistic" about the prospect of jobs coming to the area, but skeptical the still-unproven wind power industry will pan out.
The greater Dundalk area has seen thousands of jobs disappear with the closing of the Sparrows Point steel mill and a General Motors plant.
"What we're trying to avoid with job creation is broken promises and false starts," Crandell said.
The shipyard property is adjacent to the former steel mill property now owned by Tradepoint Atlantic, which is being redeveloped into an industrial campus with logistics, light manufacturing, port and rail uses. Tradepoint Atlantic is not involved with the wind project.