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Maryland bill aims to expand commitment to offshore wind

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By BRIAN WITTE Associated Press

A coalition of environmentalists, labor unions, civil rights, and consumer groups gathered March 7 to support a measure to expand Maryland’s commitment to offshore wind as part of the state’s efforts to address climate change.

The bill aims to modernize the electricity grid to transmit offshore wind energy from the ocean to land.

Lawmakers hope the legislation will enable the state to benefit in part from nearly $370 billion set aside in the federal Inflation Reduction Act over 10 years to incentivize electric vehicles and jump-start renewable energy such as solar and wind power nationwide.

“With the federal dollars flowing, investment tax credit for the development of offshore wind, I think this piece of legislation ties in nicely,” Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Senate Education, Energy and Environment Committee, told journalists recently. “The timing is excellent to take us to the next level on offshore wind.”

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Groups including environmental organizations such as the Maryland League of Conservation Voters joined NAACP-Maryland and labor unions, including United Steelworkers and IBEW Local 24 to express support for the legislation.

The measure would set a goal for Maryland to generate 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2031. Maryland is now working toward building 2 gigawatts, pending final federal approval of two projects off the coast of Ocean City.

The legislation would require the Maryland Public Service Commission to conduct an analysis on offshore wind transmission system expansion options, and potentially accept a future proposal. The Maryland Department of General Services would invite bids and could enter at least one contract between July 31, 2024 and April 20, 2025, under the bill.

Del. Lorig Charkoudian, a Montgomery County Democrat who is the lead bill sponsor in the Maryland House, said the measure would create a procurement method that takes the burden off of ratepayers and addresses the most significant challenge of offshore wind: transmission.

“It will lead to significant investment and new business in Maryland, with good union jobs,” Charkoudian said.

But Bruce Bereano, a longtime Maryland lobbyist who is representing local Ocean City officials, characterized the proposal as a complex and costly “boondoggle” that is being pushed as the state’s legislative session is more than half over.

“It’s not ready for prime time,” Bereano said in an interview before testifying against the bill on Tuesday.

Ocean City officials have opposed offshore wind proposals off their coast, largely because they are concerned the wind turbines are too close to shore and will be an eyesore to tourists who come to enjoy the beach.

The measure would strengthen labor standards for offshore wind manufacturing, installation and maintenance to ensure the projects would create union jobs, supporters say, and it also would procure roughly one additional gigawatt of offshore wind power in existing lease areas while protecting ratepayers.

Lawmakers are considering the legislation a year after they approved a comprehensive law last year to address climate change. The Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 calls for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 60% below 2006 levels by 2031 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2045.

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