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Bill thwarting wind energy project could hurt state [Commentary]

Laws and LegislationRenewable EnergyFloods and FloodingWind PowerEcosystems

If you work in Maryland, you have good reason to be concerned about climate change and to be in favor of more clean energy like land-based wind power. Unfortunately, a bill moving in Annapolis right now would severely handicap Maryland's ability to pursue onshore wind development within our borders.

My organization, the Labor Network for Sustainability, recently released a report called "The Impact of Climate Change on Work and Working People in Maryland." The report shines a bright light on specific sectors of Maryland's economy and how climate change threatens each one. Let's consider a few of those sectors.

Take the Port of Baltimore, which is threatened by a rising sea-level and increased extreme weather events. The 50,000 jobs created by the port and the 120,000 maritime jobs linked to it will be seriously affected by flooding and coastal erosion, which are likely to silt up navigation channels. Increasingly stronger storms will interfere with docking. Access roads near ports will be vulnerable to flooding. Each 1 percent decrease in shipping at the Port of Baltimore between now and 2018 will result in a loss of more than 3,600 jobs.

Look at tourism and recreation workers. Visitors to Maryland, most of them on one-and-two-day trips, support 135,000 full-time-equivalent tourism jobs paying $3.8 billion in wages and salaries. By 2050, days hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit will triple to 90 days a year. Between 25 and 35 days will be above 100 degrees. If visitors canceled half of their trips on days over 100 degrees, it would lead to loss of one-sixth of tourism revenues, or approximately 22,500 jobs.

Consider agriculture. Farms will face growing costs resulting from climate change. The low-lying Eastern Shore is threatened with inundation from rising sea levels. Heat waves threaten animal health and require cooling and ventilation of enclosures. Crops will require protection against drought, flooding, salt-water intrusion and new pests. Work will be made far more difficult, onerous and dangerous by summer temperatures exceeding 90 and often 100 degrees.

These are just some of the major economic sectors in Maryland threatened by climate change.

The good news is we can do something about this problem. The overwhelming majority of scientists across the world agree that climate change is primarily caused by our burning of fossil fuels for energy. That means switching to a clean energy economy is a critical way to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Unfortunately, lawmakers in Annapolis are considering legislation that will undermine Maryland's goals of transitioning to clean energy, let alone of becoming a hub of clean energy manufacturing and innovation.

The bill, HB 1168, would impose a 15-month moratorium on wind turbines within 56 miles of the Patuxent River Naval Base (PAX River). The affected area would cover all or part of 12 counties and include the most promising land areas for wind development in Maryland. The bill allows for increasingly tall turbines the farther they are from Pax River, but even those graduated height restrictions would prevent economically viable, utility-scale wind farms.

Most immediately, the bill would kill the most mature wind project in Maryland: the Great Bay Wind Energy Center planned for Somerset County. The developers of this project have already spent four years and $3 million working on it.

The bill is unnecessary because the Great Bay developers and the U.S. Navy have been negotiating for over a year and have nearly finalized an agreement that would ensure the wind farm does not interfere with the radar operations at Pax River. If the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense indeed finalize that agreement, then the project should be allowed to move forward without legislative obstruction.

Beyond interfering with that one project, HB 1168 would send a strong signal to the wind industry as a whole that Maryland is not a safe place to do business. It would set a dangerous precedent that Maryland lawmakers can step into the private sector to kill any project regardless of the time and money a company has already invested.

Meanwhile, Maryland has the potential for more than 1,400 megawatts of in-state wind power. As of 2014, we've only built 120 megawatts of wind in Maryland. Tapping into more of that potential right here in our state will mean thousands of construction, engineering, design and supply chain manufacturing jobs.

Working people and their unions in Maryland have every reason to be concerned about climate change, and I hope that as we move forward, climate activists and organized labor can work together toward more clean energy in our state. For now, in the few remaining days of the 2014 legislative session, I sincerely hope our lawmakers will not hamstring future wind energy development in our state by passing this dangerous legislation.

Joe Uehlein is the founder, president and executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability. His email is joeuehlein@mac.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationRenewable EnergyFloods and FloodingWind PowerEcosystems
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