Gov. Wes Moore champions wind energy as Ørsted plans new assembly site in Sparrows Point

Source: By The Baltimore Sun • Posted: Sunday, April 23, 2023

The towering wind turbines that could rise off Maryland’s Atlantic coast in a few years will have their foundations assembled at Sparrows Point, where a lot of the steel that built America was once made.

Politicians, business leaders and union officials gathered Friday at Tradepoint Atlantic for the groundbreaking of an assembly plant that Gov. Wes Moore said will play a key role in Maryland’s green energy transformation.

Ørsted, a Danish energy and offshore wind development company, plans to operate a 40-acre center — on the site of a now closed steel mill — where 125 workers will assemble key components for the wind turbines that will generate renewable energy for Maryland and elsewhere.

“Maryland steel led the American economy in the 20th century,” Moore told the crowd. “And I want Maryland wind to lead the American economy in the 21st century.”

More than 100 people, including county, state and federal officials, attended the event, held on a gravel lot where the $14-million center is expected to be built. Wind from the Chesapeake Bay blew dust across the empty land that was once part of the sprawling steel plant that closed a decade ago.

After the groundbreaking, Moore, a Democrat, signed bills meant to bolster Maryland’s commitment to cleaner energy, including one that sets a much more aggressive target for wind energy production.

Gov. Wes Moore, center, signs one of thre clean energy bills Friday afternoon after announcing Maryland’s first offshore wind turbine component center, which will be built at Tradepoint Atlantic. At left, Senate President Bill Ferguson; at right, House Speaker Adrienne Jones.

Gov. Wes Moore, center, signs one of thre clean energy bills Friday afternoon after announcing Maryland’s first offshore wind turbine component center, which will be built at Tradepoint Atlantic. At left, Senate President Bill Ferguson; at right, House Speaker Adrienne Jones. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

“The clean energy revolution isn’t on the horizon, it’s here right now at this moment,” Democratic Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said. “With that revolution, comes enormous opportunities to create jobs, generate capital investments and revitalize communities that were once the hub of American manufacturing.”

Bethlehem Steel once employed 30,000 people at its Sparrows Point mill and another 4,000 in its adjacent shipyard. The mill traded hands and employed a dwindling workforce before fully shuttering in 2012. Tradepoint Atlantic, a 3,300-acre logistics hub with warehouses and manufacturing, now occupies that space.

More than 12,000 people now work at Tradepoint Atlantic in a variety of businesses, said Kerry Doyle, Tradepoint Atlantic’s managing director. Doyle said the site is primed for more investment in the wind energy industry.

“The combination of deep water access, robust, key site infrastructure, rail connectivity and abundant real estate make Tradepoint a perfect fit for offshore wind,” Doyle said. “The future of offshore wind in Maryland could not be any more promising.”

Maryland will need to start producing more offshore wind energy soon to meet the ambitious goal signed into law by Moore. The POWER (Promoting Offshore Wind Energy Resources) Act will require the state to consistently produce 8.5 gigawatts of power through turbines off the coast by 2031.

The increase, from the current goal of 1.2 gigawatts, is intended to help the state achieve its larger climate goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions 60% below 2006 levels by 2031, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. That plan was set in motion with the Climate Solutions Now Act that Democratic lawmakers passed in 2022 over the objections of then-Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Moore offered a slight criticism of Hogan last month, saying he would not take the same “middle path” as his predecessor, when he signaled his support for the offshore wind expansion and a more aggressive climate plan.

The law also requires a study of upgrading and expanding transmission needs to accommodate the sizable increase in offshore wind production. It sets a timeline for soliciting the transmission work and procuring offshore wind production projects.

Passed along party lines in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, the POWER Act was one of the most significant environmental bills considered during the annual 90-day legislative session that ended earlier this month. Republicans’ opposition ranged from potential costs for ratepayers to concerns that whale deaths on the East Coast have been linked to offshore wind construction, which federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have said are false.

See which bills were approved in the 2023 General Assembly session ]

Friday’s event was just the latest Maryland announcement by Ørsted, an international firm founded in Denmark. The company’s American wing has been planning a wind farm called Skipjack Wind about 19 miles off the coast of Ocean City for several years.

Sen. Ben Cardin said these wind power projects by Ørsted are feasible partly because of the Inflation Reduction Act championed by Democratic President Joe Biden and passed by Congress in August.

“That investment included extending and expanding tax credits, which are essential to making this project a success,” said Cardin, also a Democrat.

The other bills Moore signed into law Friday — marking the second of several events to sign bills passed in the annual legislative session — also are aimed at achieving the state’s long-term climate goals.

The Clean Trucks Act will require the state Department of the Environment to adopt regulations requiring an increasing percentage of new medium and heavy-duty vehicles sold in Maryland to be zero-emission, starting with the 2027 model year. It also increases overall funding and individual limits for grants to help offset the costs for individuals or local governments to purchase those vehicles or related equipment.

And the Clean Transportation and Energy Act, one of Moore’s own bills, extends and increases another grant program to offset some of the cost for electric vehicle recharging equipment. Under the new law, the Electric Vehicle Recharging Equipment Rebate Program will cover $700 or 50%, whichever is less, for individuals and the lesser of $5,000 or 50% for businesses or government entities. The program is first-come, first-served, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.