Town halls seek input

Kandice C. Wilson, Community Times

The Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club is hosting a town hall meeting at the Randallstown Community Center Nov. 16 - one of several across the state - for people to voice their opinions, questions, and concerns about the possibilities of offshore wind power in Maryland.

"It is an exciting time for offshore wind in Maryland," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a recent statement about the alternative energy source he backs.

During this year's state legislative session, 34 delegates, including Jon S. Cardin, Dana Stein, and Dan K. Morhaim (of the 11th District), co-sponsored O'Malley's bill - the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act.

Eleventh District Sen. Bobby Zirkin co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

The purpose of the bill was to require the state's investor-owned electric companies to enter into a long-term purchase agreement with one or more offshore wind generators in order to begin the process of bringing offshore wind power into Maryland.

Although House Bill 1054 was not brought up for a vote, the advocacy group Environment Maryland reported that the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are conducting further studies in order to move forward with more action in 2012.

The upcoming town halls serve as "education meetings" that are providing "time for community members as well as delegates and senators to talk about the possibilities for offshore wind," Sierra Club conservation representative Chris Hill said.

According to Hill, Maryland gets 60 percent of its energy from coal, which contributes to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. This is one of the main reasons he and other environmentalists say Maryland would benefit from cleaner energy options.

"As power needs grow and as communities grow, the benefit is it offers another alternative," "Offshore Windpower" author Christopher Gillis said.

His book was published by Schiffer Publishing in March and provides details about the evolving wind energy industry.

Unlike solar energy, wind power feeds into an overall power grid structure, which would service a specific area.

"It's pretty fascinating to see how these things develop not only around the world but right here," Gillis said.

A poll issued by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. found that 62 percent of suburban Baltimore voters would be willing to initially pay more each month in their utility bills to develop offshore wind power.

In addition, the Maryland Energy Administration reported that a 500-megawatt wind farm could produce 2,000 manufacturing and construction jobs over a five-year period, as well as 400 long-term operations positions.

Currently, Constellation Energy owns a land-based 70-megawatt wind farm in Garrett County that provided more than 150 construction jobs and nine permanent operations positions.

On Nov. 16, the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club is hosting their third of six town hall meetings at the Randallstown Community Center from 6-9 p.m. at 3505 Resource Drive in Randallstown.

On Dec. 13, the last town hall meeting will be held at the Rosedale Public Library at 6105 Kenwood Avenue from 6:30-8:30 p.m.