MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're bringing you wild cards, which is to say stories that run the gamut and touch on all sorts of topics. In just a few minutes we'll get the latest in our American Graduate series and find out why experts can identify which kids are at risk of dropping out as early as elementary school. We'll also hear a rather dramatic comeback story from a Columbia, Md. native who's now a dancer with the acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We start this part of the show though with wind power. It's the topic of heated debate in Maryland right now, with Governor Martin O'Malley pushing lawmakers to approve an offshore wind plant for the state. Now researchers at the University of Delaware are offering some more fodder for the discussion. They say there's more energy than anyone previously thought blowing in the wind.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour spoke with Professor Willett Kempton about the prospect of wind power off Maryland's coast.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
So let's get right to it. How much wind energy is there off of the -- Maryland's coast?
DR. WILLETT KEMPTON
Well, there's enough wind energy to provide an average of 14,000 megawatts of electricity, which is about 189 percent of the state's need for electricity.
It's 189 percent of the electricity that all of Maryland uses in a year?
That's -- I mean, that strikes me as a lot.
Well, it is. We were really quite surprised. On-land wind resource is much smaller and the solar resource is also much smaller.
Is this a sort of change from what was the conventional assumptions about how much wind energy there was?
Well, if you look at the wind maps that were produced for the United States ten years ago, they show where the wind is in all the 50 states. And all the wind maps stop at the coast so it appears as if there's just blue out there and no assessment of the wind resource at all.
So this is sort of a new frontier in a sense for wind energy.
Where would the turbines go exactly? I mean, I assume they can't go everywhere.
That's right. So we try to make realistic assumptions about where they would be placed knowing that, you know, the details would be different when actually things get done. But we excluded all areas close to shore because they're both in sight and birds tend to fly along the coast, which is, in my view, more of an issue. Second, we excluded all routes where ships typically go.
It's all well and good that this energy is out there but how much will it cost consumers?
Well, today, just roughly speaking, offshore wind is about one-and-a-half times the cost of, you know, old electricity that's, you know, coming from the plants that we use today -- the power plants we use today. That is expected to decline in the same way that other technologies do. In some windy areas in the west building new wind generation is actually cheaper than fossil fuel because there's so much wind that, you know, you're getting -- you're actually getting cheaper electricity. But in this region, especially with offshore, it's going to cost more than fossil fuel electricity given current prices for fossil fuel electricity.
Now, those kind of numbers are really kind of arbitrary because you're really comparing, you know, the cost of an apple with the cost of an orange here. For our current fuel -- our current electricity system we have to buy fuel. So we don't really know what electricity's going to cost next year because we don't know what the cost of fuel is going to be.
Now, Governor O'Malley's plan that it would basically add a couple dollars to everyone's electric bill in order to incentivize the development of this resource, do you think in your estimation that this resource can be tapped without that?
No, I don't think it can. As I said, it's about one-and-a-half times the cost of conventional power today. Somebody's got to build the first, you know, five or ten wind farms before you start getting lower costs because of, you know, familiarity developed in the industry and so forth. The first states will pay more for the electricity. So whether or not that's a good idea depends on whether the state wants to create more of the industry in that state, or whether they're willing to let other states do that. And later buy cheaper electricity but not have the jobs that go with that industrial development.
All these decisions about power that, oh it's going to cost $2 extra or whatever, it's really warped by the way the -- that electricity is priced, that electricity unlike most other products, you get a cheap deal and the health system has to pay the difference. You know, lung disease, asthma, heart attacks. You've got various developmental disorders in children. And the tax -- you know, the taxpayer also subsidizes both traditional power and new wind and solar.
But if you took all the subsidies into account, even today's cost of offshore wind would be cheaper than existing power.
All right. Well, Professor Kempton, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Sure, my pleasure.
That was Professor Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware speaking with WAMU's Sabri Ben-Achour. You can find more information on wind energy in Maryland on our website metroconnection.org.
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