Maryland lawmakers appear poised to pass an offshore wind energy bill in this year’s General Assembly, after balking at similar proposals in the last two years by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The House Economic Matters Committee will hear testimony Tuesday on the bill, but most legislators appear to have their minds made up in favor of the plan, which they say will lower the state’s nonrenewable energy dependence and lure wind developer contracts and jobs away from other East Coast states.
Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, has had trouble in the past convincing some party colleagues that offshore wind will attract interested developers and that it won’t lead to drastic rate increases, but administration officials say their continued assurances and recent federal endorsements of offshore wind will lead to passage this time around.
“I think what has really happened is that the legislators have really had the opportunity to have all of their questions answered,” said Abby Hopper, energy adviser to the governor. “They understand the ratepayer protections that are in the bill, and that this is likely to be an effort that is not done solely by the state.”
Maryland is among several states including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware, that are vying to be among the nation’s first to get an offshore wind farm up and running.
Mr. O’Malley’s bill would establish a regulatory framework and set up guidelines the state would use to vet proposed offshore wind projects.
The state is aiming to get at least 2.5 percent of its energy from offshore wind by 2017, but the major sticking point for opponents has been independent estimates that the cost of establishing wind farms could raise residents’ energy bills by several dollars a month.
The governor’s bill would pledge that increases would be limited to $1.50 a month.
Outnumbered Republicans have offered almost unanimous opposition, and have contended that Democrats are pushing offshore wind while ignoring other options, such as Western Maryland’s Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve.
Proposals to drill for gas there have frequently stalled due to environmental concerns.
“This is like the dumbest project ever,” Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican, told the Baltimore Sun last month about the offshore wind proposal. “Each year the governor brings it back, and the economics get worse.”
This year’s wind bill has gotten a boost from recent congressional action extending federal tax credits for wind energy, as well as the Obama administration’s decision last year to begin awarding grants for test projects.
Mr. O’Malley’s bill is expected to have more success than last year’s version, which passed the House by an 88-47 vote but died in the Senate, where it fell short of majority support in the 11-member Senate Finance Committee due to continued opposition from a few Democrats.
One of those Democrats, Sen. C. Anthony Muse, was removed from the committee at the start of this year’s session by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat.
Mr. Muse, Prince George’s Democrat, was replaced by Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George’s Democrat who is expected to provide the swing vote to ensure committee passage.
This year’s bill is co-sponsored by six of 11 finance committee members and 24 of the Senate’s 47 members. All sponsors are Democrats.
“I absolutely feel like the momentum is on our side,” Maryland Delegate Tom Hucker, Montgomery Democrat, told The Washington Times recently. “Now that the economic incentives are there for another year, it’s a more favorable climate.”
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