March 22, 2011

MD Senate committee conflicted over cost of wind energy

by Amanda Gaines, 630 WMAL News,

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The state Senate finance committee is divided over Governor Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind energy plan, with some saying wind turbines are the best option for Marylanders and others calling the act too big of a financial drain.

The governor’s Offshore Wind Energy Act calls for the construction of about 120 wind turbines miles off the coast of the Eastern Shore. The state would set up a contract and figure out the cost for taxpayers that would be locked in for the next 20 or 25 years.

Subsidizing building costs for a 500-watt wind farm would add between about 92 cents and $3 per month to Marylanders’ electric bills, the Maryland Public Service Commission told the committee last week. Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola calls the cost “minimal,” especially when compared to health and environmental benefits.

“It’s the equivalent of a homeowner replacing two light bulbs with those compact fluorescent light bulbs,” Garagiola, who represents Montgomery County and serves on the finance committee, told 630 WMAL News.

“Once the windmill is built, wind prices don’t go up or down; it’s free. And we will get the benefit of that energy once these windmills are constructed,” he added.

Senator Allan Kittleman, a Republican serving Carroll and Howard counties who also is on the committee, says the cost to taxpayers is unnecessarily high and that the act is disliked on both sides of the aisle.

“A large number of us on the committee were very concerned that the governor was willing to place this burden on the back of the Maryland ratepayers,” Kittleman told WMAL.

“Why don’t we wait for five years to see if the prices will come down, and then we can enter into a long-term contract if necessary,” he added. “But if you do it right now, it’s clearly at the highest that it’s going to be and if we enter a long-term contract now we’ll end up paying more money for offshore wind.”

While Garagiola praises the act because he says it will end hidden fees of about $25 million that Marylanders pay to other states for imported energy, Kittleman says the act is misleading because building the wind farm will help the economies of states other than Maryland.

“Manufacturers are much more likely, if they desire to be close to where the wind turbines need to be delivered, will build them in Virginia. I mean, Virginia is almost as close as Maryland is to the Eastern Shore. So there’s no way we’re going to have a great influx of manufacturing jobs,” Kittleman said.

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