Wind Dreams

Originally Published in the Frederick News-Post

Marta Hummel Mossburg Jan 11, 2012

Bob Dylan famously sang, "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind."

If Gov. Martin O'Malley had a motto, that would be it, judging by his push (or will it be a putsch?) to force state ratepayers to finance offshore wind power.

His legislation last year failed. He has not said much about what his revised plans are for this year, when legislators face a state deficit of more than $1 billion as they return to session today, but taxpayers should be wary of his energy agenda.

The 2009 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act and subsequent regulations arising from it require utilities to use more and more heavily subsidized renewable forms of energy each year to operate in Maryland. The plan is supposed to spur green jobs, have no negative impact on the reliability of electricity service, and cause no loss of manufacturing jobs.

Never mind that the switch and other regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gases will have virtually no impact on the environment, as Lord Christopher Monckton, former science adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, recently pointed out.

But they will cost ratepayers and taxpayers heavily, potentially kill jobs and jeopardize the reliability of the state's electricity system.

Last year's proposal would have tacked on anywhere from $2 to $9 to consumers' monthly bills and thousands for large businesses for 20 years in order to make it possible for the project to secure financing and make money. The governor promised this would create thousands of green jobs in the process, but did not say how the higher costs would affect hiring in other industries.

Nor did he say what would happen if green energy did not turn out to be the job generator he promised. BP Solar closed its plant in Frederick last year and is leaving the business altogether because it can't make money, despite huge subsidies. By now, everyone has heard of Solyndra's spectacular bankruptcy, which leaves taxpayers on the hook for $535 million.

In wind news, one of the industry's well-capitalized companies, NRG Energy, said it was halting all offshore projects, including one off the coast of Delaware. The company has said that Congress' decisions to end loan guarantees and no longer extend tax credits for offshore wind were major factors. If legislators vote to move forward with the project without federal help, state taxpayers will be the ones left on the hook if federal aid is not available.

Last, wind and solar are unreliable sources of energy. Texas, which has the largest wind capacity in the nation, is a prime example of how spending billions will not guarantee results. During last summer's heat wave, wind turbines provided only a fraction of the energy they were supposed to, creating power emergencies all over that state and pushing electricity prices way up.

State legislators should keep the interests of Maryland's ratepayers and taxpayers in the front of their minds this session instead of O'Malley's national ambitions. Otherwise, we will be paying for his mistakes long after he leaves office.