Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to build one of the nation’s first offshore wind farms off the coast of Ocean City was wisely put on hold last year by state legislators, who said they needed more time to study the proposal. Key questions about the centerpiece of O’Malley’s environmental policy have finally been answered, and they don’t help the cause.
Although the governor vowed in June 2010 that offshore wind energy would “create jobs for our workers and help stabilize utility costs for our families while increasing grid stability,” it’s clear he won’t be able to deliver on any of those promises.
Like the solar panels manufactured by now bankrupt Solyndra, wind turbines depend on the vagaries of nature and thus are not reliable producers of electricity when it is needed. Which is why General Electric announced earlier this month that after pocketing $125 million in federal stimulus grants and contracts, it was retreating from the faltering offshore wind market due to lack of demand. GE, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of direct-drive wind turbines, is laying off 40 employees at its ScanWind plant in Norway. O’Malley’s claim that this heavily subsidized but still failing industry will create “green” jobs in Maryland is nothing but wishful thinking.
The governor’s plan requires Maryland utilities to sign a 25-year agreement to buy electricity generated by wind turbines at above-market rates. These artificially high payments will subsidize developers, who readily admit they cannot secure financing for the risky $1.5 billion wind energy project without government help. O’Malley insisted last year that any rate increases for residential and commercial customers would be minimal, but subsequent studies found otherwise. Rate increases six times higher than the governor’s original estimate would be needed to supply just 3 percent of Maryland’s energy needs through wind.
Abandoning his campaign promise to lower energy costs, O’Malley vainly tried to convince skeptical reporters that “over the long term, it’s actually better for consumers.” But nobody, including the governor’s fellow Democrats, is buying that hot air. The last straw is the fact that Michael Enright, O’Malley’s former chief of staff, is now managing director of Beowulf Energy, one of the firms competing for state wind subsidies. It is bad enough for O’Malley to raise voters’ monthly electric bills for an unreliable technology in a failing industry. It is worse to see him enrich his old high school buddy. It will be a hard sell, even in Annapolis.
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