O'Malley touted Maryland's gains in solar, wind

Wearing a hard hat, Gov. Martin O'Malley, center, joins workers for Astrum Solar on Earth Day 2010 as they put photovoltaic panels on a roof in Howard County. (Don Watkins / November 29, 2012)

Gov. Martin O'Malley has urged President Obama to look to Maryland as a model for how government can fight climate change, while also appealing for federal help in his own quest to get wind turbines built off Ocean City.

In a letter released Thursday by the governor's office, O'Malley welcomed Obama's recent call for renewed efforts to deal with climate change in the destructive wake of the storm Sandy, which ravaged New York City and the New Jersey shore just before the election.

"We agree that climate change is real, detrimental and human caused - and that as a nation we need to do much more to address its causes and consequences," O'Malley wrote. "We have an obligation to future generations to do so."

He ticked off a laundry list of what he called "smart policy choices" made in Maryland that he said demonstrate how fighting climate change can boost the economy rather than hurt it, as skeptics have argued.

O'Malley pushed through legislation three years ago committing the state to reducing climate-warming greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020.  The Department of the Environment earlier this year released a draft plan for achieving that goal, which included a projection that the effort would actually boost the state's economy and add up to 36,000 jobs.

The governor also has pushed through incentives for homeowners and businesses to conserve energy and for the the development of "clean" renewable energy projects.  A pair of utility-scale wind projects have been built in western Maryland, and solar arrays have sprung up across the state.

But O'Malley has been stymied on his signature renewable energy priority - to get huge electricity-generating wind turbines placed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Maryland coast.  Legislators have twice balked at providing incentives for the projects that would be financed through modest increases in rates.  O'Malley aides say another attempt will be made in the legislative session beginning in January.

While saying the federal government has been a "strong partner" in encouraging the development of offshore wind along the Atlantic Coast, O'Malley asked for the administration's continuing support of "favorable renewable energy incentive policies." One important federal incentive - a "production tax credit" for wind projects of all types - is set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts to extend it.  Proponents fear the "fiscal cliff" debate will preclude that.

O'Malley also renewed earlier requests that federal agencies and the military commit to buying power from offshore wind turbines, thereby helping to ensure a market for the costly projects, which despite federal offshore leases being awarded in Massachusetts and Delaware have yet to take off.

Seen by some as a potential candidate for the White House in 2016, O'Malley commended the Obama administration's efforts to date on climate change and offered "Maryland's assistance at the national level."

O'Malley's letter promptly drew praise from environmentalists eager to keep the heat on Washington to take more aggressive action on climate change. 

"Governor O’Malley’s invitation to work closely with the White House to accelerate climate action at the state and federal levels is precisely the sort of leadership we need," Chesapeake Climate Action Network's Mike Tidwell said in a statement, "as extreme storms like Hurricane Sandy become more frequent and solutions like wind and solar power become more affordable and feasible.”