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Home Opinion Originally published February 29, 2012

Maryland Black Businesses Would Gain Under O’Malley Wind Energy Bill

by Christine Hill and Joe Gaskins

    (Courtesy Photo/commons.wikimedia.org)
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Just look at the numbers. The U.S. economy was shedding millions of jobs at the peak of the recession in late 2008 and early 2009. Then Congress passed an economic stimulus package – heavy on green energy investments – in February 2009. Within months, the number of lost jobs began to decline and by 2010, we had achieved monthly net job growth again in the U.S. The trend has continued nearly unabated to the present, with a quarter-million jobs created just last month alone.

How can anyone, with a straight face, argue the stimulus didn’t work? The question now is how to sustain the progress. Unemployment in Maryland, while falling, is still 6.7 percent, and is over 10 percent for African Americans. Most troubling, an astonishing 25 percent of Baltimore’s residents live in poverty. Meanwhile, new roadblocks in Congress mean there’s little chance of significant new federal investments in jobs soon.

As African American leaders in Maryland’s environmental and business communities, we believe the best way for our state to move forward – and to benefit all citizens – is to invest in Maryland’s greatest single source of new jobs and green energy: offshore wind power. The General Assembly should quickly pass Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind bill (SB 237, HB 441) while supporting provisions that ensure maximum participation by minority businesses and workers in this promising new industry.

Why offshore wind? Because energy experts agree that America’s coastline, from Cape Cod, Mass. to Cape Hatteras, N.C., is one of the best places in the world for wind turbines. It’s a region of shallow water, very windy conditions, and best of all: it is right next to 64 million electricity users from Boston to Charlotte. Bottom line: a multi-billion dollar wind industry is coming soon – guaranteed – to this region as a solution to our twin challenges of energy independence and intensifying global warming. Europe has been in the water for decades now, with 49 offshore wind farms. Several states are starting to move forward in developing offshore wind off their coasts. The states that develop this resource first, will be the states that get the lion’s share of the regional turbine manufacturing and supply-chain jobs.

This is why Gov. O’Malley’s bill is so important. It would incentivize the construction of about 80 modern turbines 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City, and thus stimulate the creation of nearly 1,500 jobs and about $1.2 billion in total economic benefit for the state. With our excellent port in Baltimore and steelmaking capacity at Sparrow’s Point, with this bill, Maryland would rapidly move ahead of neighboring Delaware and Virginia as the future supplier of key ingredients for the east-coast build-out of wind power. That, in turn, will mean tens of thousands of jobs for our state, only a modest initial price impact on ratepayers, followed by inevitably lower power costs in the future.

But all too often in America’s history, new economic development has not fully benefited qualified minority businesses and workers. On this front, we again applaud Gov. O’Malley’s bill. As introduced, it gives core weight to a wind-energy company’s explicit commitment to minority hiring before any wind farm proposal can be approved by the state’s Public Service Commission.

This is particularly important because right now, there is a wide range of minority-owned Maryland businesses ready to help launch this industry, ranging from Dajani, LLC engineering company in Prince George’s County to D&T Welding Company in Baltimore. Business incubator programs can help prepare even more minority companies to build and/or install some of the thousands of parts that go into offshore wind turbines. A wind energy incubation program could include services such as minority business development, workforce training, and factory retooling information sharing. This will further level the playing field to ensure that all Marylanders – not just some – benefit from an industry that in 10-20 years will be to Maryland what the space industry has been to Florida and Texas.

To truly make the vision of green jobs a reality, we also need to consider broader concepts, such as equity and ownership, in order to ensure that minority individuals and businesses have maximum opportunity to become equity owners in this multi-billion dollar industry.

Finally, we support offshore wind power development as a matter of basic “environmental justice.” It is a fact that African Americans are nearly 40 percent more likely than others to have a coal-fired power plant located near their homes, with all the attendant dirty air and water impacts. And global warming, driven significantly by our over-reliance on dirty coal for our electricity, will disproportionately affect African Americans, through intensifying urban heat waves and other heat-related pollution impacts, according to a Congressional Black Caucus study. Simply put, wind farms mean fewer coal plants will be built in anybody’s neighborhood while slowing the impacts of climate change on everybody, including vulnerable populations at home and abroad.

Now that’s a stimulus that makes economic and ethical sense across the board. The General Assembly should pass the Maryland offshore wind bill without delay.

Christine Hill is the policy director for Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. Joe Gaskins is the executive director of the Economic Development and Training Institute based in Prince George’s County
 



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