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O'Malley vows new offshore wind push

Gov. Martin O'Malley vowed Tuesday to renew his stymied push for building wind turbines off Maryland's Atlantic Coast but said he's not sure yet what type of government incentive he'll ask lawmakers to approve for the industry next year.

A top Obama administration official, meanwhile, told attendees at an offshore wind conference in Baltimore that their industry stands "at a crossroads," creeping closer to being ready to build the first massive turbines off the Atlantic coast but running into significant political resistance toward continuing government incentives.

Speaking to the American Wind Energy Association gathering, O'Malley said the industry has "tremendous potential" to create jobs while generating more than enough electricity to meet the Mid-Atlantic region's energy needs. He repeated assertions that a 500-megawatt turbine project off Ocean City could draw up to 2,000 construction and manufacturing jobs to the state, plus 400 full-time jobs related to running and maintaining the facilities.

"Our greatest challenges are not primarily financial, nor are they technological," he said. "Our greatest challenges are political."

O'Malley failed this year to persuade lawmakers to help the industry by requiring the state's utilities to sign long-term contracts to buy power generated by turbines placed a dozen or more miles off Ocean City. Legislators tabled the measure for further study amid questions about the massive costs of such projects and how much more ratepayers might have to pay on their electricity bills.

Meeting with reporters after his speech, O'Malley said he may adjust his offshore wind legislation or propose another type of incentive, depending on what emerges from legislative committees that have been meeting on the issue since the last General Assembly session.

But he said he was heartened by polls released this week by industry supporters showing that Marylanders favor government action to promote offshore wind development, even if it means paying more on their power bills for a time. One poll, by Gonzales Research, found that 62 percent of residents questioned backed offshore wind even if it cost them an extra $2 a month. Another, by the Frederick Poll, said 68 percent wanted government to push offshore wind energy projects even if the power costs more for a time.

"On some issues, the public runs ahead of its leaders," O'Malley said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, meanwhile, told the conference that the Obama administration remains committed to helping the industry in the face of Republican resistance in Congress to providing federal incentives for renewable energy. He said the industry needs a new long-term investment tax credit to help finance projects that could cost $1 billion or more, and it needs Congress to renew by next year a production tax credit that has helped spur onshore wind development.

Salazar signed the nation's first lease for offshore wind at last year's conference in Atlantic City, N.J., giving the go-ahead to the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts after a decade of challenges and review. Opponents have objected to the turbines' impact on views from the shore, among other things.

This year, Salazar had no new leases to announce, but he predicted that his department would issue another lease within months or even weeks, plus four more in the coming year for projects off the Atlantic Coast.

"Despite what some in Congress would have you believe, our clean energy future is happening right now," Salazar said. Enough utility-scale wind turbines have been erected on land across the country, he said, to generate up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity — giving the United States roughly a fifth of all the wind power capacity in the world.

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