Getting Real About Maryland’s Offshore Wind

A new report from the Abell Foundation details the potential of Maryland’s offshore wind resource to meet our state’s electricity needs:

… Maryland’s feasible wind resource off of its Atlantic coast (including both state and federal waters) is large enough to significantly contribute to the electric demand in the state.  Using existing, proven technology (monopile; 5 MW turbines) and accounting for various social, environmental, and nautical exclusion zones and conflict areas, Maryland’s available offshore wind resource could provide 67% of the state’s electric load.

While the study accounts for many of the conflicting uses and other barriers, the greatest obstacle to realizing our state’s vast offshore wind potential may be economic.  After all, bringing this new power into Maryland’s electricity market would make life difficult for incumbent generators.  They want to hold onto their revenue and market share even if their antiquated plants are dirty and inefficient.

Consider:

1. “Maryland’s” offshore wind resource is mostly located in federal waters.  Whether in state or federal waters, agreement from a host of influential federal agencies will be required.

2. The new offshore transmission network will be under federal jurisdiction.  Will it be controlled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, another existing federal agency or even a new one — perhaps modeled on the Bonneville Power Administration (which operates outside of FERC control)?

3. The offshore netowrk must be connected to the on-shore transmission system controlled by PJM, the private grid manaer regulated by FERC.

In short, Maryland’s offshore wind potential won’t be developed anytime soon without the active cooperation of FERC and PJM. Both are heavily influenced by incumbent industry players who stand to lose money and influence to offshore wind.

Like any public agency, FERC is vulnerable to “regulatory capture,” a widely recognized mechanism whereby the regulated private interests come to dominate “their” regulators.  Just to cite one instance, FERC and PJM are heavily committed to building new “coal-by-wire” transmission lines like PATH that benefit major players including American Electric Power.  Rapid development of offshore wind would threaten the viability of this FERC “pet project.”  Will FERC fight to defend AEP’s PATH project?

Under the best of circumstances, realizing the potential for clean energy and local jobs described in the report would be highly challenging.  In the face of industry opposition bolstered by allies in powerful federal agencies, it may be nigh impossible without determined public support.

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One response to “Getting Real About Maryland’s Offshore Wind

  1. Pingback: O’Malley and Markell Ask Obama to Help Spark Offshore Wind « Maryland Energy Report

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