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ANNAPOLIS – The House is expected to vote Friday on a bill that would pave the way for offshore-wind energy.
Lawmakers began debate Thursday on the proposal, which would set the regulatory framework for a system in which wind-energy companies would set up turbines off the coast of Ocean City and sell renewable-energy credits to Maryland energy providers seeking to boost their renewable-energy portfolios to keep in line with state standards.
Gov. Martin O’Malley is sponsoring the bill as one of his premier pieces of legislation in this year’s General Assembly and hopes to rebound from the failure of a similar bill last year.
Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is mounting a late charge to get the bill passed before the assembly adjourns April 9. Supporters say the bill will put Maryland at the forefront of the wind-energy movement and create jobs while reducing the state’s dependence on nonrenewable energy sources.
“It makes Maryland a leader. We want jobs and sustainable green Maryland jobs, and this provides them,” said Delegate Tom Hucker, Montgomery Democrat and the bill’s lead House sponsor. “We’ve subsidized coal and nuclear energy for decades, and now it’s time for this.”
Despite a push from the governor, Republicans and many Democrats have been reluctant to accept the proposal because of the strong likelihood that implementing offshore wind – which is currently a more expensive energy source than coal or natural gas – will cause residents’ energy bills to go up.
Last year’s wind bill died after some studies estimated it could drive up household energy bills by as much as $9 a month.
This year’s bill would cap average household rate increases at no more than $1.50 a month and commercial bill increases at no more than 1.5 percent.
Opponents say such increases are still too much.
“It’s using taxpayer subsidies at a time when we’re raising their income taxes and their flush taxes and their boat taxes and every other tax we can think of,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican. “This is bad policy and we shouldn’t be doing it.”
Delegate Dereck E. Davis, Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee that approved the bill Monday, downplayed the effect that wind energy could have on consumer bills.
He said the cost gap between wind and nonrenewable sources is expected to close in coming years and that ratepayers will pay only for their energy and won’t be on the hook for developers’ initial infrastructure investments.
“Once it’s come on line, the citizens will be paying for that power that was actually produced,” Mr. Davis said. “Construction overruns or manufacturing defects … none of that is on the ratepayers; all of that is on the developer.”
House debate Thursday was largely dominated by Republicans who criticized the bill’s impact on ratepayers and also questioned whether there is a sufficient market of wind-energy firms ready to make an investment in the state.
Delegate Michael A. McDermott, Worcester Republican, suggested the state would be better off pursuing a short-term, small-scale wind project – such as one announced this week in Virginia – before overhauling statewide energy policy.
“The idea is first to see whether or not it is actually worthwhile,” said Mr. McDermott, adding that the state should “let the industry drive this force instead of letting the state driving it through expense of the ratepayers.”
If the bill passes the House, it would move to the Senate Finance Committee for discussion next week and potential passage to the Senate floor.
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