Businesses hope to cash in on Maryland wind farm -- Gazette.Net



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The House on Friday approved an offshore wind farm that could mean opportunities for a range of small and minority-owned businesses in Maryland and Prince George’s County.

“There are many different industries involved in this project, industries that are already here in Maryland,” Ross Tyler, director of the Business Coalition for Maryland Offshore Wind told businesspeople at a forum in Annapolis on March 28.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is calling for a 310-megawatt installation off the coast of Ocean City, at a cost of almost $1 billion. State estimates predict the project’s economic impact during the next five years could reach $2 billion, with $8.7 million in additional state tax revenues. O’Malley has introduced legislation that would add fees to electric users’ bills to help attract developers to build the wind farm.

The House approved the bill 88-47, including a provision that creates an Offshore Wind Business Development Fund to support a local supply chain for small and minority-owned businesses and a potential wind business incubator. The bill also calls for residential utility customers to pay an additional $1.50 a month to support the wind farm, with commercial payers seeing a 1.5 percent rate increase.

The bill has moved to the Senate.

Prince George’s County Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Dist. 24) of Bowie said the fund is an important piece of the legislation to ensure small and minority-owned businesses receive equal opportunity to benefit from this project.

“I appreciated being able to give this my yes vote,” he said.

Tyler illustrated the opportunities for businesses along every step of the wind farm’s life cycle, including its development, preparation of the turbine, preparation of the balance of the plant, installation, commissioning and operation.

He pointed out that local companies already are engaging in services and technologies that could bank off this project. Eaton, which makes electronic converters for offshore turbines and has an aerospace facility in Beltsville, could potentially work on the project.

“There are thousands of components that go into this. It has an enormous tertiary supply chain,” Tyler said. “This could operate for at least 25 years.”

“When these jobs come to Maryland, you need to be able to identify where you can play,” said R. Daniel Wallace, director of renewable energy systems for BithEnergy in Baltimore.

Joe Gaskins, executive director of the nonprofit Economic Development & Training Institute incubator in Suitland, emphasized the need for proper training for businesses to get involved.

“You have to understand things like how wind works on water,” he said.

Gaskins said he hopes to be part of the proposed wind industry incubator, which would support up to 100 small and minority-owned businesses starting in 2013.

He said 200 small and minority-owned businesses already have the potential to compete for these contracts.

After the forum, Terry Goolsby of Sowinergy and Clozynergy in Upper Marlboro, said the nation needs better public policy in renewables if it hopes to keep up with other regions, such as Europe.

“This is a piecemeal reaction to a stimulus, rather than a holistic approach,” she said, referring to how the Ocean City farm is intended to connect to the Atlantic Wind Connection, which will help add 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbine capacity to the regional grid.

She said she supports the legislation because it gives Maryland businesses a chance at the opportunities, which otherwise would go to others.

lrobbins@gazette.net