Offshore Wind Brings Opportunity to Maryland

The largest offshore wind project in the United States promises both renewable power and renewed opportunity for a faded factory town.

The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first US offshore wind farm.
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first offshore wind farm in the country. Meanwhile, in Maryland, two proposed offshore wind farms could revitalize a former industrial stronghold and create over 9,000 jobs. (Dennis Schroeder / NREL)

In its heyday, Sparrows Point was home to the world’s largest steel plant, supplying the metal to make the Golden Gate Bridge, erect the Empire State Building and fight both world wars. By 1960, Sparrows Point employed at least 30,000 workers and had become its own town—complete with tree-lined streets, schools, churches, a fire and police department—owned and run by Bethlehem Steel. When the plant was sold and resold and finally closed in 2012, the number of workers had dwindled to 2,000.

“When the steel plant shut down, it didn’t just deprive us of jobs, it cut us off from this rich vein of our history,” said Maryland State Delegate Robbyn Lewis. “There’s been nothing for us to turn toward.”

Now, the town is gone. The plant has been razed. It leaves in its wake a legacy of environmental degradation—new owners set aside $48 million to remediate the site—and lost opportunity.

The offshore wind farm offers a second chance with a new kind of industry—one that would not only help revive the 3,100-acre area, but this time safeguard the environment by helping the state achieve a 25 percent clean energy standard by 2020. Local residents would not just see an influx of jobs. If the most ambitious visions are realized, workers will have a chance to once again help build the nation’s infrastructure. Just as their forefathers sent steel to New York’s skyscrapers, residents of Dundalk could be assembling turbines for projects up and down the eastern seaboard and beyond.

For now, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) approved two proposals from U.S. Wind and Deepwater Wind to provide an initial capacity of 368 megawatts of offshore wind power.

Public Service Commissions are state agencies that regulate electric utilities and other services, such as natural gas and water. They play a major role in clean energy policy, including developing rules that address new energy investments and acceptable electricity rates. The Clean Energy Guide

With the massive amount of infrastructure needed to support the proposed 77-turbine offshore wind farm—infrastructure that is easier to build locally rather than bring in from elsewhere—the project is projected to create 9,700 jobs and generate more than $1.8 billion of in-state spending.

“It’s mind boggling if you think of all the jobs that can be created in different sectors,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. “It’s utility-scale clean energy located next to the most congested parts of the country, where it’s hard to get utility-scale clean energy.”

However, despite widespread support in Maryland and the PSC’s approval, the project could be in jeopardy before it even gets off the ground. Earlier this summer, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) introduced an amendment to the appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of the Interior to prevent federal funding from being spent on wind projects built within 24 miles of Maryland’s shoreline.

The wind farm’s many benefits give its advocates, including Earthjustice, deep wells of community support to draw on in the coming fight to save it.

Hundreds of Marylanders submitted comments to the PSC in Spring 2017:

  • Lucinda in Baltimore, MD
    “As a lung cancer survivor who has asthma and COPD, I want more days with breathable air.”
  • Elisabeth in Thurmont, MD
    “Maryland is missing a bet if we don’t start taking advantage of all this wonderful wind nature has gifted us.”
  • Kathleen in Laurel, MD
    “We are moving forward without coal.”
  • Cynthia in Baltimore, MD
    “We Marylanders need to ensure that jobs are generated by research, development, creation of green energy.”
  • Laura in Parkville, MD
    “We need to do this.”
  • Marissa in Germantown, MD
    “Wind energy is a no-brainer.”
  • Jeffrey in Columbia, MD
    “Renewable energy is good for the environment and the economy!”
  • Catherine in Baltimore, MD
    “I would be so proud to live in a state that is pioneering construction of the biggest offshore wind farm.”
  • Peter in Rockville, MD
    “Offshore wind, correctly sited, is an option we need to consider and support where appropriate.”
  • Pat in Laurel, MD
    “The power of wind is being wasted at a time when we need to be cleaning our air.”
  • Victoria in Takoma Park, MD
    “Got wind? Got power.”
  • Jeannette in Charlotte Hall, MD
    “Let Maryland be a leader in clean energy, not a 1950’s polluter.”
  • Nancie in Ocean Pines, MD
    “I attended the public hearing in Berlin and enjoyed the knowledge from people who testified.”
  • Ilana in Baltimore, MD
    “We need clean, renewable energy, as well as jobs.”
  • Lucy in Lanham, MD
    “Windmills on horizon are beautiful. Surely no one would rather look at coal-mined degraded landscapes.”
  • Pat in St Leonard, MD
    “We only have this one little blue planet and very little time left to save it and ourselves.”
  • Robin in Westminster, MD
    “I want to be part of the future.”
  • Don in Arnold, MD
    “Renewable energies like wind energy is the energy of the future—except it is already here.”
  • Barbara in Silver Spring, MD
    “Maryland is ready for wind, let’s do this!”
  • Marilyn in Bowie, MD
    “Wind is free. It doesn’t pollute. It doesn’t contribute carbon emissions.”
  • Susan in Chevy Chase, MD
    “Let Maryland set an example that every East Coast state can follow.”
  • Martin in Finksburg, MD
    “Renewable energy is the way of the future, moving away from dinosaur fossil fuels.”

“For decades, dirty power plants have been placed in poor communities, with the universal justification that they are good for everyone. Now, with clean energy resources like offshore wind, we really can benefit everyone and harm no one,” said Earthjustice attorney Susan Stevens Miller.

“The project’s broad benefits should help insulate it from the concerns of a few who are worried about hypothetical harms to their oceanfront views.”

Miller continues to work to secure commitments from the developers to protect the environment during construction of the offshore wind farm. For example, she is working to ensure that any ships involved with the construction will safeguard endangered North Atlantic right whales and other vulnerable marine life.

But Miller built a case for the project that went beyond environmental considerations. Representing the Sierra Club and Maryland League of Conservation Voters before the PSC, she argued for the project’s approval as a way to help modernize Maryland’s electricity system, to give the state greater control over its energy destiny—and to bring much needed economic development to a struggling part of the state.

The PSC’s approval of the project includes explicit requirements to ensure economic benefits for the local area. In fact, the PSC mandates that U.S. Wind and Deepwater Wind invest at least $39.6 million to support port upgrades at Sparrows Point and $76 million to build a steel fabrication plant in Maryland.

Tradepoint Atlantic, the company that owns the Sparrows Point area, is eager to begin revamping the 150-acre portion that would support the offshore wind farm. In fact, the various companies looking to provide manufacturing support to the offshore wind farm all agree that the Sparrows Point site is favorable for development, according to Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint Atlantic’s vice-president of operations.

Scott Viciana, vice president at Ventower Industries, a Michigan-based company that builds wind turbine towers, notes Sparrows Point’s many assets: deep water access, shipbuilding capacity, oceangoing vessel accessibility. But most of all, he talks about “steel embedded in the DNA there, kids who want to go into the same line of work as their parents and grandparents.”

“Maryland has an opportunity to be a real leader in offshore wind,” Viciana said.

The offshore wind industry in the United States lags well behind Europe. As of 2015, the European Union had more than 3,000 wind turbines at 84 offshore wind farms in 11 countries, while the U.S. just launched its first commercial offshore wind farm in 2016—five turbines just off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island.

Europe offers a preview of the industry’s job-creating potential—75,000 jobs are attributed to offshore wind across the continent, many of them in shipyard or port areas in dire need of economic development, similar to Sparrows Point. The offshore wind industry creates more jobs than fossil fuels or even onshore wind because of the amount of manpower it takes to install, operate and service offshore turbines.

David Roncinske, a representative with the Wharf, Dock Builders, Pile Drivers and Divers Local Union 179, has members trained and ready for some of these new jobs. Many were involved in the construction of the five-turbine Block Island offshore wind farm, a project that brought 180,000 man hours for pile drivers alone.

“This represents the start of a new industry,” Roncinske said. “Hopefully it’s just the beginning.”

The jobs of the future will be different than the ones of the past. Business and education leaders on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are also getting ready to support the new industry with a workforce training program to teach skills specific to the construction, development and operation of an offshore wind farm.

“There is a rebirth going on but it’s a rebirth reflective of the 21st century economy,” said Tomarchio. “There will be labor required, but not at the level once required.”

For Sparrows Point veterans like Pritt, the past is prologue for what the future can be.

“I’m excited to see opportunity there again, to see the Point anchoring the community,” he said. He looks forward to the day when once again he will hear people talk about working at “the Point,” in an industry that only has room to grow.

Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program is based in Washington, D.C., with attorneys working in offices across the country.

Using the power of the law and the strength of partnership, our attorneys are working to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy. Transformational change will not come fast enough without key policy reforms and a concerted fight against industry interests that profit from business as usual. Learn more.