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Lifestyle B'More Green

Maryland energy chief heads to DC

A top O'Malley administration energy official has left Annapolis, where he's had mixed success pushing for wind and solar projects, for the fiercer political winds of Washington.

Malcolm D. Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration for the past five years, has joined "Advanced Energy Economy," a new national business association that seeks to promote energy efficiency as well as wind, solar and nuclear power.  As the group's vice president for government and regulatory affairs, he said he expects to spend time advocating for favorable policies in Washington and in state capitals.

Woolf's move to DC is a return of sorts.  Before joining the state, according to a bio on his new employer's website, he had worked for the National Governor's Association and as counsel to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Reflecting on his tenure, Woolf said in a public farewell email that in recent years Maryland "has cemented its reputation as one of the top clean energy states in the nation."  He credited Gov. Martin O'Malley for having the vision and willingness to fight for "clean energy."

Of course, O'Malley's biggest fight is one he has lost twice now, failing for two years running to persuade state lawmakers to spur development of industrial-scale wind turbines off the Atlantic coast. The initiative has run into stiff opposition from an odd combination of conservative Republicans skeptical of government subsidies and of liberal Democrats leery of anything that might raise electricity rates for the poor.

Without mentioning that stumble, Woolf said that the administration has made "remarkable progress" in shifting the state toward clean energy.  Leading his list of "real results" is Maryland's ranking as one of the leading states in pursuing energy efficiency and promoting development of solar energy. 

He touted the state's conservation efforts, which he said had succeeded in reducing peak per capita energy demand by more than 9 percent, alleviating the need to build more power plants. The state also added 70 megawatts' worth of solar energy generation, he noted, and two utility-scale wind farms in western Maryland.

In a brief interview before departing, Woolf said he's particularly impressed with the growth in solar installations by businesses and on homes, which he said has helped sustain jobs for some 2,000 installers. More than 8,000 Marylanders have put solar, wind or geothermal systems in their homes using state grants from his agency, he said.

Asked whether signficant clean-energy growth could continue, Woolf said he'd met with developers he didn't identify who he said are interested in building more utility-scale wind turbines on land.

As for offshore wind, he said that even without the subsidies O'Malley has been unable to get so far, the administration still hopes to boost the project for now by underwriting the costs of mapping out potential turbine locations off Ocean City.

Clean energy's future nationally is a bit cloudy right now, though, as legislation to extend tax credits for wind projects has bogged down in Congress. The outcome may depend on what voters decide in November, with President Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney differing over national energy policy and renewables in particular.   

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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