Executive Assistant to the President Jerome Schnydman, on President Ronald Daniels’ behalf, declined to take a position on a recent offshore wind energy bill being discussed in the Maryland General Assembly.
Schnydman made this decision at a meeting with members of the Students for Environmental Action (SEA) and the Maryland Student Climate Coalition (MSCC) last Friday morning.
Schnydman cited the lack of consensus within the University on the bill, the established relationship between the University and its energy suppliers and the short time scale prior to the bill’s vote as reasons that the President’s office could not proceed, according to sophomore Julia Bradshaw, Public Relations Officer for SEA.
Reintroduced this year after failing to make it to voting last year, the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012 would allocate state subsidies for the construction of an offshore wind farm 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.
Daniels’ neutrality marks a setback for the two groups who had hoped to convince his office to send a letter to Baltimore City Senator Catherine Pugh in support of the legislation.
“If Hopkins came out in public support of it, it would mean a lot,” sophomore Thalia Patrinos, member of the MSCC, said. “Hopkins has a lot of weight, especially in lobbying decisions.”
Some students remained unsatisfied with the meeting with Schnydman and questioned whether Daniels was even informed of their petition.
“We didn’t speak with President Daniels. We spoke with one of the people that writes letters for him,” Patrinos said. “I don’t even know if President Daniels knows about this bill.”
“You have to go through all the bureaucracy and red tape to get to him,” Patrinos said. “And we haven’t gotten to him yet.”
According to Megan Jenny, Campus Organizer of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), opponents of the bill cite the increase in energy bills Maryland residents, businesses, and institutions would face to cover construction costs as an argument against the bill. The clean energy advocacy group hoped to gain the support of Maryland businesses and institutions in favor of the bill as a counterargument.
As of today, the presidents of Chesapeake College and St. Mary’s College and a few hundred businesses have come out in support of the bill, according to Jenny.
However, the two groups remained optimistic about the bill’s future.
“It’s a fantastic bill. It’s just really sensible. You don’t even need to be an environmentalist to like this bill. You could hate the environment and still like this bill,” Patrinos said.
SEA and the Maryland Student Climate Coalition (MSCC) have been petitioning students around the Homewood Campus to raise awareness and support for the bill since the end of fall semester. Bradshaw described the student response as “very positive.” So far, the groups have collected 120 signatures and 80 photo petitions.
Students from both groups plan on participating in a rally on Feb. 22 in front of the Maryland State House in support of the Maryland Off Shore Wind Energy Act. Organized by the MSCC, the rally will draw students from several Maryland universities.
In accordance with the bill, private companies will submit proposals for offshore wind farms to the Maryland Public Service Commission for selection.
The bill also limits the increase to average ratepayer’s bill to $2 a month and non-residential ratepayers, such as universities, to 2.5 percent a month above projected fossil fuel prices.
Proponents of the bill argue that the construction of an offshore wind farm will have a number of positive effects.
“We’ve identified 1000 businesses in Maryland that would benefit [from the economic activity],” Jenny said.
Proponents also cite reduced pollution, subsequent reductions in public health damages and less volatile future energy costs as potential benefits.
In addition, wind farms have a low energy construction cost to energy production ratio. According to Charles Meneveau, the Louis M. Sardella Professor of Mechanical Engineering, in only a few months, a wind farm will offset all the energy used to construct it, leaving the remainder of it’s multi-year operational lifetime to produce usable energy.
“This is a win for the environment, a win for the economy, a win for the job market and a win for public health,” Jenny said.
The wind energy issue has seen movement on the national level as well.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy P. Beaudreau announced the results of an environmental impact assessment of off shore wind energy in the mid-Atlantic last Thursday.
“[The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management environmental impact assessment] found that there would be no significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts from issuing wind energy leases in designated Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) areas of the mid-Atlantic Coast,” the US Department of the Interior stated in a press release.
Overall the Department of the Interior seemed to be in support of off shore wind energy.
“Offshore wind holds incredible potential for our country, and we’re moving full-steam ahead to accelerate the siting, leasing and construction of new projects,” Salazar stated in the same press release.
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