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Producing renewable energy: Maryland’s future? | COMMENTARY

As Marylanders, we like to think of ourselves as being at the vanguard of technological and social progress. Often, we have been, producing the world’s first dredger in 1783, developing the first gas streetlamp in America in 1817, and giving birth to American railroading in 1828. Though we have occasionally been resistant to rapid social change, we still managed to produce many great civil rights leaders, have taken steps to protect the Chesapeake Bay and have striven to expand business participation among minorities and women.

But there certainly have been times when Maryland has been a laggard. As an example, for decades Maryland was not an environmental leader. One of our dirty little secrets is that there was a time when we were more dependent upon coal-generated energy than most states.

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Coal mines had been a major source of income for Marylanders dating back to the early 1800s. By the early 1900s, coal mining peaked in the Free State with more than 450 mines in operation producing more than 5 million tons per year. Our proximity to coal behemoth West Virginia supplied further inducement for Marylanders to depend upon coal for energy production throughout much of the 20th century. There are still a handful of coal-fired power plants operating in Maryland.

But even in this context Maryland has turned the proverbial corner and emerged as a leader. Earlier this year, a Wallethub report ranked Maryland fourth in terms of environmental friendliness behind only Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. Only Maryland and New York ranked in the top 10 along three major dimensions: environmental quality, eco-friendly behaviors and climate change contributions.

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In 2007, Maryland became the 10th state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI is the first cap-and-trade program to control carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. The program is targeted primarily toward diminishing carbon dioxide pollution through a mandatory emissions cap on the electric generating sector coupled with a market-based trading program to minimize compliance costs.

In 2019, Maryland passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which requires the state to acquire half of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, by 2030. My company, Sage Policy Group, had an opportunity to study the economic and environmental implications of that legislation. That legislation faced significant opposition, but ultimately passed due to some courageous policymaking late in the 2019 General Assembly session.

The upshot is that local utilities must quickly identify alternative sources of energy. But Maryland can help save the world and itself not only by consuming renewable energy, but also by producing it. Producing cleaner energy can be magical along multiple dimensions, including both environmental and economic.

Ironically, it has been the emerging industry of offshore wind that is bringing the tradition of steel manufacturing back to Sparrows Point. Once home to the world’s largest steel mill, it’s now emerging as a hub of clean energy production. Ørsted, the global leader in offshore wind development, broke ground in 2019 on Maryland’s first offshore wind staging center at the former steel production site, known today as Tradepoint Atlantic. The site supports Ørsted’s Skipjack Wind 1 project located 20 miles off Maryland’s coast, which will power 40,000 homes.

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Ørsted’s investment at Tradepoint enabled Baltimore small businesses like Strum Contracting to play a leading role in redeveloping the port facility there, creating jobs and helping East Baltimore residents amass human capital in the process.

This summer, US Wind, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of Italian renewable energy firm Renexia SpA, announced its own plans for Tradepoint, which include a steelmaking factory that would manufacture the towers that anchor wind turbines to the ocean floor.

In short, when a state decides to do the right things and be a global leader, it attracts like-minded enterprises with capital to spend. Ørsted is now proposing Skipjack Wind 2. Located 20 miles from Ocean City, it would power nearly 250,000 homes and support additional jobs, household income and local business sales. US Wind has also proposed a new project to be situated a bit closer to Maryland’s shoreline, Momentum Wind, which also offers an abundance of economic upside.

Our economists estimate that these projects will support thousands of jobs, many of them in high-paying technical fields.

This is Maryland at its finest. All we need to do is keep going, and in doing so, we are benefitting ourselves while saving the world.

But Maryland can help save the world and itself not only by consuming renewable energy, but also by producing it. Producing cleaner energy can be magical along multiple dimensions, including both environmental and economic. (Anirban Basu (abasu@sagepolicy.com) is chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group and chief economist of Maryland Banker’s Association.)

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