Hogan Signs Regional Compact to Promote Offshore Wind — But Md. Projects Move Slowly

Wind Farm
A completed five-turbine wind farm off Block Island, Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind photo.

The headline news is that the governors of Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia signed a compact on Thursday to collaborate and advance offshore wind projects and to promote the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast as hubs for the industry.

In reality, it’s another twist in the tortured debate over bringing wind turbines to Maryland’s waters.

The announcement by Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) of his pact with Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D) and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) was pure Hogan, on-brand with his oft-repeated message of bipartisanship and collaboration.

“Maryland has been leading the charge when it comes to real, bipartisan, common sense solutions and we are proud to continue setting an example for the nation of bold environmental leadership,” Hogan said in his statement. “Joining this multi-state partnership to expand offshore wind development will further our strong record of supporting responsible energy projects that provide jobs, clean air benefits, and energy independence.”

Creation of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (SMART-POWER) provides a framework for the three states to cooperatively promote, develop and expand offshore wind by removing regulatory burdens and providing economic incentives for the industry and related construction and supply operations.

It’s a nod to the potential of offshore wind energy at a time when states are scrambling for economic rejuvenation and job growth and are feeling intense pressure to address climate change.

“Harnessing the power of offshore wind is key to meeting the urgency of the climate crisis and achieving 100% clean energy by 2050,” Northam said.

The governors cited a U.S. Department of Energy study estimating that Atlantic Coast offshore wind projects could support up to 86,000 jobs, $57 billion in investments, and provide up to $25 billion in economic output by 2030. Virginia leaders in particular have aggressively promoted offshore wind in recent years, and the state’s largest power company, Dominion Energy, signaled this year that it plans to put more resources into developing its clean energy portfolio.

In a statement, the Sierra Club hailed the agreement.

“This partnership between Mid-Atlantic States is only the start of unlocking the region’s massive potential for clean affordable offshore wind energy,” said David Smedick, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal senior campaign representative. “The region must move quickly to attract investment in this burgeoning industry and help ensure we bring clean energy and family-sustaining, union jobs to Maryland.”

But Hogan’s own record and rhetoric on two long-proposed offshore wind projects off the coast of Ocean City have been decidedly mixed — and some environmental groups have grumbled for years that he and his administration could be doing more to promote offshore wind. A year ago, when the Maryland Department of Environment issued a detailed draft proposal about how the state would reduce greenhouse emissions, environmentalists and their allies in the General Assembly argued that offshore wind notably received short shrift — a contention that state Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles pushed back on.

Maryland has two offshore wind projects under review by the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The Skipjack Wind Farm Project, to be built by Ørsted Offshore North American, is set to be located 19.5 miles off the coast of the northern part of Ocean City and adjoining Delaware beach towns.

Also under consideration is the MarWin Wind Farm project, which would be situated roughly 17 miles off the Ocean City coast, proposed by U.S. Wind.

Both projects were enabled by the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, which was heavily promoted by then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) and passed by the Democratic supermajorities in the General Assembly after a years-long legislative fight. But after receiving approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2017, the wind projects have proceeded at a sluggish pace — and amid increasing vocal opposition from political and business leaders in Ocean City, Maryland’s No. 1 tourist town.

Ocean City hired Bruce C. Bereano — arguably the most enthusiastic Hogan supporter in the Annapolis lobbying corps — to try to derail the proposals or push them farther offshore, and hired Timothy F. Maloney, a former state lawmaker and close Hogan friend, for some legal work related to the wind turbines, even though Maloney had no prior experience arguing cases before the PSC.

In the past year, Ørsted has had to fend off a challenge in the PSC after the company announced that it would be using larger turbines than it had originally said it would — to meet changing standards in the industry. The PSC, whose commissioners all have been appointed by Hogan, could have simply noted the change but instead initiated a lengthy hearing process to gauge community opinion — a process endorsed by the Hogan-controlled Maryland Energy Administration.

In August, the PSC signed off on Ørsted’s bigger turbines, at the MEA’s recommendation. But the PSC proceeding may have delayed the project’s completion by almost a year.

Without knowing how long the federal regulatory process will take — and the outcome of the presidential election could make a difference — both Ørsted and U.S. Wind said they hope to turn the turbines on in 2023, which seems like an optimistic estimate.

Both Ørsted and U.S. Wind issued statements Thursday that applauded the three-state wind energy compact.

Brady Walker, Ørsted’s Mid-Atlantic manager, hailed the governors’ “forward-thinking approach,” and said the company is “excited to engage with their effort to grow this new American industry.”

Salvo Vitale, the U.S. Wind country manager, said the agreement will be good for both Maryland and the region.

“We believe this strategic multi-state partnership will be critical leverage right now as many regions compete to attract the larger economic development that comes with the full offshore wind manufacturing supply-chain,” he said. “Locally based supply chain options will bring cost savings to Maryland rate-payers as we expand offshore wind development. We stand ready to be a creative and dynamic partner, with global expertise, as we work together to meet Maryland’s renewable energy goals, while creating high-quality jobs and driving significant local investment in the Baltimore area and across Maryland.”

Notably, neither company said Thursday’s announcement would improve the prospects for their projects in Maryland’s waters.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.