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The Tentacle


April 23, 2008

The Winds of Darkness

Kevin E. Dayhoff

On April 12, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his administration’s opposition to the construction of wind power generators on public lands under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

 

This edict, for those attempting to follow along at home, comes from the environmental governor, who, just months ago, was beating the drum for legislation that would coerce utilities to source 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2022.

 

Sort of like, well, Florida Power and Light, which is the largest U.S. generator of wind power, with 47 wind farms currently in 15 states. Florida Power and Light’s rates are reported to be well below the national averages, and it has been consistently praised for its environmental stewardship.

 

Yeah, don’t be confused. This is the one and the same power company that was vilified by Baltimore’s Sun; pick any article in the paper about Florida Power and Light in December 2005; or about the Maryland Democrat Party, including our current governor, in the year after a proposed Baltimore Gas & Electric merger with Constellation Energy was announced December 19, 2005.

 

The merger, which would have precipitously lowered electricity bills in the BG&E footprint and would have provided a large percentage of electricity from non-fossil fuel generating plants, was called off on October 25, 2006.

 

Many agreed with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., when he attributed the demise of the merger as a result of Maryland “Democratic leaders (who) are arrogant, over-reaching, and anti-business.”

 

Fast-forward to the latest Orwellian Maryland energy policy moment on April 12. The messianic decision was delivered, in a modern-day version of the Sermon on the Mount, on the Monroe Run Overlook in Savage River State Forest, to the rapturous joy of a unique congregation of elected officials, environmentalists and other groupies.

 

People, who on any given day would probably not be able to agree on what day of the week it was, much less most matters of public policy.

 

Reports of people fainting, or beginning to speak in tongues, are unsubstantiated. However, accounts by many credible sources completely deny that there was any use of snakes in the ceremony; and no one stepped forward to be cured of any disabling diseases.

 

One thing is for sure, we were sold snake oil and our disabling practice and policy of relying on decades-old and thoroughly discredited electric generation capacity was certainly not cured by denying the generation of much needed additional energy by way of a renewable resource.

 

At this point cue up “Flight of Valkyries” and break to a video of Robert Duvall sniffing at the morning air and saying, “I love the smell of coal-fired electric generating power plants. It smells like – lung cancer.

 

According to published accounts, Maryland’s “seven oldest coal-fired power plants… released 1,031,833 tons of air pollution from 2003 through 2005…”

 

All seven plants ought to be closed down and bulldozed.

 

The challenge, of course, is that Maryland’s current electric generating capacity, based significantly on fossil fuel power, is well accepted as bad for the environment, but cannot keep up with projected increased demand, even if the best of concerted electric conservation program were to take place.

 

Environmental upgrades for these ancient plants are essentially not economically feasible or would otherwise significantly increase the cost of electricity that is already financially untenable to a broad spectrum of the consuming public.

 

Close them down and pursue the alternative of increasing reliance on obtaining large amounts of electricity out-of-state which only puts Maryland at the mercy of the ever-escalating global market-driven pricing and the whims of guaranteeing supply.

 

Yet incredibly, in this dire context, if you are of the belief that the energy policy of the United States is whacked-out, you ain’t seen nothin’ until you try to get your arms around the lack of a cohesive, consistent, logical and thoughtful energy policy in Maryland.

 

Populism rules in the State of Maryland. The uninitiated observer could easily grasp that Maryland’s energy policy is summed-up by Annapolis telling the energy producers that the beatings will continue until electricity is provided at below market cost so that the greedy robber barons of the utility industry are bankrupted out of existence.

 

That’ll teach ’em – and plunge us further into darkness.

 

Many had the current issues clarified by Barry Rascovar, who recently wrote the best explanation yet in the Gazette:

 

“When it comes to creating a coherent energy policy for Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley isn’t taking chances. If a proposal requires either pain or sacrifice from citizens, O’Malley is against it.

 

“If a proposal draws a loud group of protesters, O’Malley sides with the shouters, especially if they are environmentalists. It’s all about placating folks and getting re-elected.”

 

For those who have observed Mr. O’Malley for the past decade and personally admire him for his many accomplishments – before he was elected governor – the April 12 wind-energy decision is one more disillusioning moment in what appears to be an irrevocable look of governance by populism and pandering.

 

Mr. Rascovar said it best: “It was a strong signal O’Malley intends to continue his two-faced energy approach premised on the notion that somehow this state can slide through a long period of electrical brownouts without having to take unpopular steps… Marylanders could face rolling brownouts and blackouts in just three years.”

 

Let’s be clear, the idea of clear-cutting even 400 acres out of, according to Mr. Rascovar, “65,000 acres in those two state-protected forests,” is unappealing and difficult to swallow. Yet coherent, sober, and consistent choices need to be made.

 

It’s not just about the ability to turn on the television, or run a hair dryer. It’s about jobs creation, attracting business and economic development and generating tax revenues for a state with unquenchable lust for tax dollars.

 

Difficult decisions need to be made. It takes leadership. At this point, our state’s leadership is determined to lead us into the dark without a plan.

 

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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