The answer to the nation’s energy needs may be blowing in the wind

The answer to the nation’s energy needs may be blowing in the wind. Several speakers elaborated on that idea on Thursday night during a wind energy educational program at Centerville Elementary School in Urbana.

State Sen. Robert J. Garagiola of Montgomery County, who plans to propose an offshore wind farm projects bill in the General Assembly, said he expects opposition from traditional utility companies. The Democrat said with other issues such as the budget to contend with, it will take a lot of feedback from Maryland residents to support the bill and get the attention of other lawmakers.

The state has mandated the use of more renewable energy sources by utilities, moves that Garagiola called "bricks in a foundation of a new energy future." But there will be those who label related expenses as "an energy tax on ratepayers," he added.

Bob Mitchell, CEO of Trans-Elect, which is working to create the Mid-Atlantic Wind Connection, a system of offshore wind turbines and related power systems, said wind power will cost more. Mitchell told the audience of about 100 people that a study in New Jersey showed the cost of a 1,000-megawatt wind system would raise consumer costs about 3 percent over those of traditional energy. Mitchell said he believed it could be closer to 2.7 percent.

But wind power would mean relying less on fossil fuels, and it would create jobs. The U.S. Department of Energy has shown that the best wind area available is off the East Coast from North Carolina to New England.

Lise Van Susteren, representing the National Wildlife Federation, said that wind turbines can be fatal for wildlife and marine life — but at a smaller percentage than animals and birds suffer from pollution, pesticides and natural predators.

"In Denmark the wind turbines are a tourist attraction. People go out in boats to see them," she said. "Other countries are moving ahead with wind energy. It is the wave of the future."

"We want windmills, not oil spills, off our coast," said Keith Harrington of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He called the area off the East Coast "the Persian Gulf of wind energy." For those who might worry about the visual impact, Harrington used slides to show windmills off the coast of New England that were 10 miles out and barely visible.

"There is a political challenge," Harrington said. "Investors want to know they are going to get something back."

Garagiola’s bill would mandate long-term contracts between wind power companies and utility companies to ensure financing for the offshore projects.

The event was coordinated by the Sugarloaf Conservancy, Friends of Frederick, Sierra Club and Montgomery Countryside Alliance. The organizations see wind power as an alternative to such projects as the proposed Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline across southern Frederick County.

By Ed Waters Jr., The Frederick News-Post,