Since taking office, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has viewed the transition to clean energy as a catalyst for creating jobs, wages and savings for Marylanders. Solar and offshore wind projects are priorities for his administration.

Ørsted’s wind farm off Block Island in Rhode Island is America’s first offshore wind farm, according to the company. (Orsted photo by Jason Rossi)

Solar is making headway, but two recent decisions outside of Maryland’s control raise questions as to whether Moore’s offshore wind goals can be met, at least on the accelerated timeline he’d like to see.

On Oct. 31, Ørsted, a Danish energy company, terminated two planned projects off the coast of New Jersey, citing inflation, interest rates, and supply chain issues as reasons for the decision.

Then on Dec. 11, the federal Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management removed a major portion of designated development areas along Maryland’s coastline from a scheduled wind lease sale in mid 2024, pending further study that could possibly reinstate the area in a 2025 wind lease sale.

Stalled wind

Jamie DeMarco, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, criticized BOEM’s decision, deeming the resulting map insufficient to meet regional offshore wind goals.

Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina have pledged to build 10 gigawatts of combined offshore wind capacity by 2034, but the original designated lease areas were already insufficient, accommodating 8 gigawatts at best.

Maryland state law alone calls for 8.5 gigawatts by 2031.

“This increases the importance that we have a president in 2025 who supports offshore wind,” DeMarco said. “It also increases the importance of fully building out as much offshore wind as we can in existing lease areas.”

Ørsted is playing a role in Maryland’s offshore wind commitment and is currently planning the 966 megawatt Skipjack Wind project off the coast of Ocean City, which could power more than 300,000 homes.

DeMarco speculated that timing and deadlines influenced Ørsted’s decision to terminate its New Jersey projects.

“I don’t think that timeline crunch exists in the same way in Maryland,” he said. “They have a little more time to buy the steel … and I’m hopeful that we can get the project built here.”

Maddy Voytek, Ørsted’s head of Government Affairs and Market Strategy in Maryland, said Skipjack Wind remains in active development, and the company remains in dialogue with stakeholders.

“We anticipate having a better understanding of Skipjack Wind’s path forward in the coming months following a portfolio-wide review,” she said.

Community solar

Construction is underway on the new Jessup Community Solar Farm. (Summit Ridge Energy photo)

Solar growth, while also constrained by space, has faced fewer roadblocks in Maryland, and community solar purchasing programs are giving more consumers the ability to help advance it.

Under this model, utility customers buy subscriptions from a management company for a share of electricity generated by a solar farm. The utility company pays the solar farm for the energy it generates and credits subscribed customers for the offset.

The arrangement helps underwrite the cost of new solar projects, provides savings for customers, and increases the amount of renewable energy in a utility company’s overall portfolio.

Neighborhood Sun manages the process for 23 solar farms in Maryland, including farms located in Jessup, West Friendship, and Lothian. An additional project in Jessup is among eight other farms currently under construction.

According to Neighborhood Sun spokesperson Stephanie Monmoine, the program includes 5,757 Maryland subscribers, with nearly 49 megawatts under management to date allocating more than 69.5 kilowatt-hours to subscribers every year.

“We operate in seven states and Maryland is one of our top states,” said Neighborhood Sun founder and CEO Gary Skulnik.

Recent legislation in Maryland is set to simplify the enrollment process by including subscription payments on a consolidated utility bill, and will also require projects to serve a minimum of 40% low- to middle income subscribers.

“That’s a major difference for low income customers who don’t have credit cards or large bank accounts,” Skulnik said. 

Community solar is the fastest growing part of the solar industry, he said, and it offers private investors and landowners the ability to generate income by leasing their property for solar farm construction.

“Panels can also be installed on large warehouses and rooftops that aren’t being used for something else,” Skulnik said. “That makes up about 15% of our portfolio.”

Neighborhood Sun has received support from TEDCO and the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Seed Venture Fund, and is now targeting a goal of making its program in Maryland the most successful in the United States.

“The benefit for customers is it’s virtual solar, so they don’t have to install any equipment,” Skulnik said. “It’s a good way to get everybody involved in advancing solar, not just a select few who can afford it.”