By ELLEN STODOLA
BALTIMORE (February 2, 2012)—A federal environmental assessment, conducted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, has deemed there would be no significant environmental impact to moving ahead with wind energy projects in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Tommy P. Beaudreau made the announcement in Baltimore Thursday.
Offshore wind is one of O'Malley's top priorities this legislative session. President Obama also supports the push for clean energy on a national level.
Wind energy legislation supported by O'Malley failed to get through the General Assembly last year. But this year's bills include more incentives for ratepayers and stakeholders.
For example, the potential increase on Maryland residents' energy bills to fund the projects will be capped at $2 a month, and companies investing in the offshore wind market will be able to earn renewable energy credits for their commitment to the industry.
There is still much to be done, but the environmental assessment makes it possible that leases in these wind energy zones can be offered as early as this year, Salazar said.
Offshore wind is touted by proponents as a way to produce clean, domestically generated energy.
Last year, the United States relied on less imported oil, said Salazar, stressing the importance of focusing on domestic energy sources.
Renewable energy will play an important role in these efforts, with renewable energy in the United States nearly doubling in the last few years, Salazar said.
Likewise, in Maryland, use of renewable energy has increased. Solar energy production has nearly tripled in the past few years, O'Malley said.
"The only way we're going to get to our renewable energy portfolio is if we harness the most available and abundant source of renewable energy in our state, which happens to be the Atlantic wind," O'Malley said.
By 2022, under the Maryland renewable energy and portfolio standard, it's required that 20 percent of the energy that state electricity suppliers generate must be derived from renewable sources.
The uncertainty that comes with tapping into offshore wind energy still has some worried, but O'Malley said every step cannot be easily predicted.
"We did not get to the moon overnight, and we won't erect offshore windmills overnight," O'Malley said.
The plan has the possibility of bringing 1,200 jobs over a five-year period, with 250 ongoing maintenance jobs once the wind turbines are constructed, said Abigail Hopper, O'Malley's energy advisor.
Salazar also stressed the importance of job creation, saying that offshore wind energy could bring thousands of jobs to America.
"By harvesting our domestic energy - solar, wind, geothermal, natural gas and oil - it's part of the president's vision of how we're going to stand our economy back up," Salazar said.
"I think this is a very timely boost for the bill in the General Assembly," said Delegate Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, and a supporter of O'Malley's wind energy bill.
This is a great endorsement, said Hucker, and if we don't pass the bill this year, it would have been a wasted opportunity.