During remarks at an offshore wind convention Wednesday in Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore shared his administration’s new “ambitious, but achievable” goal for turbines off the state’s coast: 8.5 gigawatts of power.
A spokesman for the Democratic governor said he plans to sign the POWER Act, which would mandate the 8.5 gigawatt goal be realized by 2031, if the General Assembly passes it.
The two projects planned so far off the shores of Ocean City constitute about 2 gigawatts, though they’re still working their way through the federal regulatory process and haven’t begun construction.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has instituted a U.S. goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. (A gigawatt is enough energy to power about 300,000 homes.)
Speaking at the International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum at the Baltimore Convention Center, Moore presented himself as a friendly face in Annapolis for offshore wind developers, drawing a contrast with former Gov. Larry Hogan.
“My predecessor took a middle path on this,” Moore said, “making some investments in offshore wind, but not enough to get us to where we need to be. I want to be very clear on this: It has been a long time since I’ve been comfortable being a ‘C’ student. I don’t want Maryland just to get by with passing grades.”
Hogan, the second two-term Republican governor in state history, was criticized for toeing the line on climate policy. Hogan spoke of the need for Maryland to address climate change, but vetoed clean energy bills enacted by the legislature, or allowed them to become law without his signature to voice opposition, often citing costs to consumers.
But Maryland’s offshore wind projects advanced during Hogan’s tenure. The state Public Service Commission issued approvals for a first round of projects from US Wind and Orsted, and in 2021, for a larger second round of projects from both companies.
As it stands, the first US Wind project, which is planned for 11.5 miles off the coast of Ocean City, has an environmental review underway from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a signal that final approval could be drawing nearer. A similar review for the Orsted project, which is planned for 19 miles from shore, has not yet begun. The companies aim to begin generating power with the projects in 2025 and 2026, respectively.
Moore’s administration has set a goal of reaching 100% clean energy by 2035. Under state law, 50% of the state’s energy is supposed to come from renewable energy sources such as offshore wind and solar by 2030. Environmental advocates have protested the fact that waste disposal methods such as trash incineration and anaerobic digestion, which produce energy, are also on the list. But a bill proposed this year that would remove them has not moved forward.
Moore said Wednesday that he also created a position in his Department of Commerce dedicated to clean energy. That position will be filled “in the near future,” said Moore spokesman Carter Elliott.
Moore also directed the Maryland Energy Administration to prioritize grants for “companies that form key links along the offshore wind supply chain.”
Liz Burdock, CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said in a statement that Moore’s announcement Wednesday “puts Maryland back in the game.”
“Developers, manufacturers, and businesses make decisions where to locate and invest based on state goals — and now Governor Moore is sending a clear message that Maryland is prepared to lead on offshore wind,” Burdock said.
In addition to locking in the 2031 goal, the POWER Act also would require the Public Service Commission to commission a study of onshore transmission needs for offshore wind, and then solicit a contractor to begin such work.
Supporters say the bill would strengthen labor standards for the projects and procure roughly one additional gigawatt of offshore wind power in existing lease areas.
With the legislature set to adjourn April 10, the bill has passed in the Senate, but not in the House. It’s expected to receive a House committee vote this week.
In a statement Wednesday, Chesapeake Climate Action Network urged legislators to quickly pass the bill and send it to Moore’s desk. The environmental group applauded Moore’s offshore wind announcement, calling it a “strong signal that Governor Moore is making good on his campaign promise to act aggressively on climate.”
Lately, many of the headlines about offshore wind have come in response to a series of whale deaths along the East Coast. So far this year, 15 humpback whales have washed ashore in Maryland, Virginia, New York and New Jersey, at times drawing concern that offshore wind construction activities could be to blame.
Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, is among the GOP politicians in Washington calling for a moratorium on offshore wind development until the whale deaths are investigated further. The Ocean City Council issued a letter in February echoing that sentiment. Leaders in the beach town have long expressed worries that the turbines will be too close to the shoreline, damaging tourism and hurting wildlife.
But federal agencies, namely the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have been unequivocal in their assertions that there’s no evidence connecting the whale deaths to offshore wind activity or surveying efforts.
NOAA considers the humpback whale deaths part of an “unusual mortality event” that has spanned the past seven years, and includes 190 of the marine mammals. When necropsies could be performed on the whales that washed ashore during the mortality event, 40% showed evidence of ship strikes or entanglements.
At the industry conference Wednesday in Baltimore, the topic of whale deaths came up, and US Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski dismissed the notion that offshore construction could be playing a role, calling it a red herring raised by those ideologically opposed to the projects.
“I think whales will be the issue that we have to deal with for the next handful of years. It’s an easy one to latch on to,” Grybowski said. “But let’s stick to the science and let’s build projects, and the issue, I think, largely will go away.”