When most Marylanders think about the “green economy,” they think about clean technologies that will allow them to live better lives and get electric power without creating pollution. Politicians in Annapolis know a lot about green energy – particularly the power of money.
Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. have two schemes in play that will both capitalize on the people’s desire for clean renewable energy and also make their friends very rich.
O’Malley’s latest plan is to permit an enormous wind farm to be built off the coast of Ocean City. The $1.5 billion proposal is not economically viable – meaning no private venture capitalist will invest in such a scheme. So O’Malley proposes to require all Maryland electricity users to pay a monthly “surcharge,” for the next 25 years. This scheme guarantees profits for the wind companies even if the project is a money loser.
O’Malley claims the surcharge will only be $1.44 per month. The General Assembly’s nonpartisan budget analysts put the fee at more than $3.60 per month, while the Public Service Commission said the rate could be nearly $90 per month – over $100 per year. This is a backdoor tax on energy.
Leading the bidding for leases to build the wind farm is O’Malley’s lifelong friend and former chief of staff, Michael Enright. Enright left the O’Malley administration and is now managing director of Beowulf Energy, which is in league with a Virginia company to secure leasing rights in Maryland.
At the other end of the state, Miller cleared the way for a wind project to be placed in state forests in Garrett County. The project initially ran into opposition from local residents, environmental groups and even Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources because it would lead to the loss of wildlife and habitat.
Miller’s legislation “streamlined” the public approval process, limiting the voices of citizens and circumscribing the power of the Public Service Commission to scale back the project. The prime beneficiary of this project is Synergics Energy LLC, whose chief executive officer, Wayne Rogers, is the former head of the Maryland Democratic Party and a major donor to both Miller and O’Malley.
Synergics and Synergics LLC gave $16,000 to Miller, while Rogers stroked large checks to O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and the Maryland Democratic Party. He also gave more than $100,000 to a pro-slots group favored by both Miller and O’Malley.
Miller and O’Malley have a checkered past when it comes to energy issues. Miller took a bunch of campaign cash from Enron, and then became the driving force behind the botched energy deregulation scheme of the 1990s. O’Malley’s brother-in-law was a Public Service Commission member who helped develop that “Rube Goldberg” system that actually kept competition out of the state, and poised Marylanders to receive a 75 percent rate increase in 2007. O’Malley campaigned to save us from that rate hike, but we got a 90 percent increase instead.
Now, with all that experience messing up electricity rates in Maryland, O’Malley and Miller are at it again – using your money to guarantee a project that private investors will not support.
Most folks would agree there is a need to use all sources of energy, including wind power, to diversify our energy portfolio. But most people will agree that plans need to be done right to ensure we are not creating more problems than we solve.
Legislation is being ramrodded by politicians who have taken large contributions from cronies. And those cronies stand to reap huge windfalls from wind power.
Regardless of the merit, it is time to slow down and get public scrutiny. There is a huge difference between government creating conditions where the private sector can flourish, and crony capitalism.
When our politicians talk about a “green economy,” it should be about the environment and businesses, not just the color of money in their friend’s bank accounts – and their campaign accounts.
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