Opinion: Let Offshore Wind Power Maryland’s Economy

Over the last 30 years, I have lived, worked and raised my family in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In that time, I have seen too many local manufacturing jobs vanish, with one of every three manufacturing jobs disappearing between 1990 and 2015. Campbell Soup, Standard Register and Dresser Wayne are just a few of the employers that left my hometown and took thousands of local jobs with them.

Fortunately, a new industry is jumpstarting Maryland’s manufacturing economy from Baltimore County to Ocean City: offshore wind energy development. In the coming weeks, state lawmakers in Annapolis can accelerate offshore wind’s progress – before surrounding states overtake us – by enacting the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Maryland was one of the first states in America to support offshore wind development. Thanks to forward-looking policies enacted by the legislature in 2013 and adopted by the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2017, offshore wind soon will be creating an estimated 60 new jobs every month over a three-year period. Two developers, Ørsted US Offshore Wind and US Wind, are developing two separate projects that could power the equivalent of 110,000 homes with clean, locally produced electricity.

As a small business owner, I am as bullish about offshore wind as any industry. Maryland’s two current projects will create more than 7,000 new, largely blue-collar jobs all across Maryland, from welders and machinists to engineers and electrical workers.

We have both an existing, skilled manufacturing workforce and underutilized facilities that, with effort, investment and vision, could be retooled and repurposed to serve this booming industry. Once these new businesses are in place, they will not only provide products for the two Maryland projects, but also could create products for many future projects – if we have the will to remain a leader.

There is one pitfall that Maryland must avoid – falling behind in the race to develop a preeminent offshore wind economy. States on America’s eastern seaboard have announced goals to generate more than 20 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, dwarfing Maryland’s current goal of 358 megawatts. That means states from Rhode Island straight through to Virginia – are now proposing ambitious offshore wind projects that could siphon workforce, business investment and tax revenue away from Maryland. New Jersey is pursuing 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy, nearly 10 times greater than Maryland’s current goal. Being an early leader in offshore wind does not guarantee we will remain one.

Maryland can solidify its status as an offshore wind leader by enacting the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would increase our portion of renewable energy that must be generated by offshore wind. If the Maryland General Assembly and the Hogan administration raise this amount from the current 358 megawatts to 1,558 megawatts by 2030 in this year’s legislative session, it would mean thousands of additional offshore wind jobs across Maryland. It also would send a clear signal to offshore wind developers, suppliers and investors around the world that Maryland is truly open for business.

Maryland has lost more than 104,000 manufacturing jobs statewide since 1990, with Wicomico County losing nearly 1,800 positions in that time. With a lot of grit and talent, our businesses and workforce have adapted to thrive in the 21st-century economy. Today, Maryland is on the cusp of being a capital of the offshore wind economy, but we need continued investment and bold policies out of Annapolis.

Enacting the Clean Energy Jobs Act is a big step toward that goal.

–Matt Drew

The writer is a licensed engineer and founder of REconnect LLC, which helps Maryland industrial businesses, offshore wind developers and suppliers build a U.S. based offshore wind supply chain. He lives in Salisbury. 

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