Having just returned from the first-ever offshore wind public meeting in Maryland history, I am completely exhausted. Yesterday, December 4, 2010, is a day that will live in the annals of Maryland history for its unique statement of people coming together from all viewpoints in a common purpose: They want their children to have a future.
The venue was the Westin Hotel in the state capital, Annapolis. Speakers and participants included the incoming Majority Leader of the State House of Delegates and the State Senate, the leader of a conservation group, the leader of a major labor union, the key players in the wind industry, community activists, fishermen, environmentalists, students and professors, anti-nuclear advocates, anti-coal advocates, anti-drilling advocates, scientists and engineers, plain folk, and a representative from Google who plans to build a high voltage submarine DC 6000 MVA power line from New York Harbor through the middle of the planned wind arrays offshore about 17 miles from Ocean City, Maryland and on to its terminus, probably in Newport News Naval Shipyard, the world's largest, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.
Six hours of presentations and panel discussions were interspersed with breakout sessions on key issues impacting the progress of the single most important renewable resource in the state - offshore wind.
I've rarely seen an audience so hopeful about a good thing that was coming to fruition. The state leaders were leading. The people were united in support. What a happy day!
It's not commonly known that Maryland is in the center of one of Nature's most powerful gifts to the people: The Mid-Atlantic Bight. This is a region stretching along the Eastern seaboard off the coasts of nine neighboring states - Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. The area of 50,000 square miles has waters that average less than 100 feet in depth and a wind resource described by DOE as "Outstanding", averaging about 20 MPH. Maryland's is in the sweet spot, with only a 31 mile wide exposure at the coastline, the Bight is over 70 miles outwards and expanding to 60 miles wide into the Atlantic Ocean. The property is nearly a third as large as the state's current land area.
The property if fully developed would have over 3,000 square miles of suitable sites with a potential capacity of over 20 GW - an annual energy potential of more than 170,000 GWH per year of mechanical and electrical energy. This is enough to power the entire state with some left over for export.
Ken Salazar's Department of Interior released a Request for Information on interest in bidding for leases in the center of Maryland's choice property that has a due date of January 10, 2011. If you read the document, you'll find that DOI intends to take five years or so and burn millions of dollars of bidders' money to evaluate the lease requests and process the permits. The lease asking prices stated were higher than $300,000 per parcel up front, a nominal charge for rights of way and acreage charges, plus 2% of all revenues derived from the wind, which it intends to share 73/27 with Maryland, once operations commence in 2016.
The DOI property covers 207 square miles and has 29 parcels. You might fit 400 wind turbines on it, with about 1.2 GW peak capacity. It's a nice start. The price tag on its capital infrastructure might come to $4 billion. It will likely bring in less than $400 million annually in gross revenue from electricity sales. In other words, the first Bight is about five times smaller than the value of the BP blowout well in the Gulf at Macondo with practically zero environmental risk, but is being charged for the privilege of oversight by the same group (the old MMS at DOI) that ran the BP lease at Macondo. This represents American Energy Policy at its finest.
All the speakers and panelists agreed that development was a good idea, a high priority for creating jobs, producing clean energy, cleaning up the water, the air, and fighting global warming.
Then came the bad news: Only 4000 jobs would be created for each billion dollars of investment. Most of the parts would be built or made elsewhere. While 90% of the new machines are made from steel, the last steel mill in the state at Sparrows Point in Baltimore Harbor is shut down, only months after being bought out by a Russian multinational, Severstal. The state would only receive a tiny portion of the wind power, and an even tinier portion of the revenue, and would probably be asked to oversee the property and protect it from saboteurs, commercial fisherman, financial difficulties, defaults, and possible warranty issues on defective equipment and final decommissioning costs. The feds still have not extended the tax credits for wind beyond the current year. The banks on Wall Street are still tight-fisted and want collateral. The feds want an insurance bond for bidders to keep out the riffraff. The utilities won't put up a nickel in advance. They won't offer power purchase contracts in advance more than a few months or a year, and then only at marginal wholesale prices, far below the breakeven cost of operations. There are still no federal or state loan guarantees. There are no federal monies for carbon credits since there is no cap and trade policy or regulation. The competition, coal-fired plants that pollute our air, water, food, and fisheries, continue to belch toxins. Our two nuclear plants at Calvert Cliffs are sinking in the mud at sea level as global warming causes the seas to rise while their excessive water use causes the land to subside into the Bay. The owner-operator of our nukes is in trouble. It can't afford to expand and its deal with Electricite de France to buy its toxic assets fell through last month. The Navy still wants to have its rights to conduct military operations near the proposed site. The fishermen want their rights for access to the area for commercial (aka, dragging the bottom) fishing, while the fish need to spawn at certain times, which slows down construction and adds to costs. Yes, the Google power line might break if it's dredged up by a construction, fishing or boating accident which will cause a very large fish fry, followed by potentially months of outages with no delivered power. Great: Another single point of failure system. There are no big users or power lines on shore. The only game in Bight town is Google. Too bad it's not a search engine. This machine has already been hacked by the Chinese.
I note that the Washington Post reported nothing on this event today. The Post also never reported that Maryland is the only state that has set a greenhouse gas reduction target. It did, five months after the fact, report that PEPCO, the local utility for DC and central Maryland, has the worst reliability in the country. Remember my "Middle Class Ordeal". Hi ho.
There is good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first? "Maryland: Got Wind?" is the slogan of the new movement. "Bight me" is the federal government's response.