Wind turbines near Des Moines, Iowa, 2008
(David K. Purdy, special to The Baltimore Sun)

Gov.Martin O'Malleyis getting backing from the Midwest in his push to put giant wind turbines off Maryland's coast.

Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a fellow Democrat, showed up in Annapolis Tuesday to testify in support of O'Malley's bill to provide incentives for building offshore wind projects.  With turbines towering over cornfields across Iowa, the state is the nation's second leading producer of wind energy, and Culver said the industry has created 4,300 jobs and helped stabilize electricity costs for consumers.


"We were in a similar position to Maryland a generation ago," Culver said in an interview after his appearance before the Senate Finance Committee.  The state's electricity costs were among the highest, he said, and the state was not producing enough power to meet its consumers' needs.

"We've flipped that," he said, turning Iowa into a net exporter of energy today.  "I think Maryland has a chance to do that."

Culver lost his bid for reelection in 2010 to a Republican who criticized his economic policies, but his successor, Terry Branstad, also touts the wind energy industry as a job creator. Branstad recently appealed to Congress to extend the federal production tax credit for wind projects.

The former Democratic governor, who's formed an energy consulting firm since leaving office, didn't get into the details of O'Malley's bill, which would require energy producers to get 2.5 percent of their electricity from offshore wind turbines starting in 2017.

"There's all sorts of ways you can get this done," he said.  What matters, he added, is that  the state "partner" with the industry to give it a boost.

Iowa had a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to get a share of their electricity from renewable sources like wind, he said.  The state also invested in wind research and development.  Now it's home to a turbine blade factory and other wind-related manufacturers.

Some Iowans questioned the cost to ratepayers of providing incentives to wind developers, as some now are in Maryland, Culver noted.  But the investment has paid off, Culver argued, because in recent years the state's utility costs have stabilized.

Maryland is fortunate, Culver said said, in that it has a tremendous energy source off its coast, where winds are even stronger and steadier than they are in the Midwest.  And while the state also has untapped natural gas reserves in western Maryland, Culver suggested Marylanders should develop every energy source they have.

"It's about preparing, I think, for the future," he said.