O'Malley's Offshore Wind Plans Could Help Steelworkers. Is It Worth Higher Utility Bills?
Mike Tidwell, who heads the Chesapeake Climate Action Committee, said earlier this year he supports upgrading the plant at Sparrows Point, enabling the mill to build steel for wind turbines.
At a Capitol Hill reception for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., MD) in January, Mike Tidwell, who heads the Chesapeake Climate Action Committee, was discussing water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. He was asked if perhaps water quality in the bay could be considerably improved just by closing down the Sparrows Point steel plant.
Tidwell’s answer surprised the reporter who asked the more-than-slightly leading question. “No, we can’t do that…there are a lot of jobs at stake over there,” he responded.
Instead, he suggested getting the financially troubled Sparrows Point facility involved in the campaign for "green" energy. “They could make blades and turbines for the offshore windmills” proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, Tidwell asserted.
At the time, this reporter tended to dismiss the idea as pie in the sky.
Now, three months later, that may be exactly what could unfold if Malley’s offshore wind energy bill makes it through the General Assembly, an iffy prospect to be sure.
O’Malley has pulled together an unusual alliance of environmental advocates and unions, including the United Steelworkers, to lobby strongly for the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2011.
But the legislation faces tricky headwinds due to opposition from business groups and consumers who fear the long-term cost of such a venture and how much it might add to their monthly utility bills. An amendment setting a $2 per month cap on utility bills was added this week to try to dampen that worry.
O’Malley claims that a 500 megawatt generation facility off the Delmarva coast could generate as many as 2,000 manufacturing and construction jobs during the five-year development phase, with an additional 400 permanent new jobs once the windmills are up and running.
This is strongly endorsed by the steelworkers.
“I’m proud to stand here today with Gov. O’Malley on behalf of the men and women of the United Steelworkers,” Jim Strong, local district director of the USW, told a rally Wednesday in Annapolis. “Offshore wind presents a tremendous opportunity to secure and expand the steel industry in Maryland and throughout the region.”
In addition to creating new jobs, harnessing the potential of offshore wind power would generate needed clean and renewable energy and promote long-term price stability, O’Malley asserts. It would also ensure Maryland meets its Renewable Portfolio Standard goal of generating 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2022.
Five hundred megawatts of offshore energy is said to be enough to power more than half the homes of Baltimore, or nearly 80 percent of homes on the Eastern Shore.
But there are huge concerns both over soaring utility bills and widely conflicting projections about how much the governor’s wind energy agenda will cost over the long term. Some legislative leaders want to delay the measure to “study” it further, in effect kicking the can down the road for another year or two. Or perhaps just killing it off for good.
Interestingly, O’Malley quietly has dropped a controversial companion bill, which would have handed out up to $50 million in state economic incentives (subsidies, in effect) for qualified manufacturers of turbines and turbine components. Insiders say the state development agency has enough leeway to accomplish in its existing programs and doesn’t need new legislative authority to carry it out.
There’s little doubt that O’Malley is rolling the dice big-time on wind power. The wind energy legislative is the centerpiece of his environmental agenda, especially now that the proposed ban on septic tanks in developments has been shelved.
Stay tuned. The next few days or weeks should be interesting.
Marty Chase was a longtime Washington correspondent for American Metal Market (AMM) and covered international trade and business issues for more than 30 years for Fairchild Publications, Kiplinger and AMM.