Maryland’s governor appeared Wednesday before a reformulated state Senate committee that twice failed to pass an offshore wind bill, saying the proposal at the heart of his environmental agenda could create hundreds of jobs.
“This legislation is important to our jobs future, to our energy future, and it’s important, therefore, to our children’s future,” Gov. Martin O’Malley told members of the Senate Finance Committee.
An offshore wind farm meeting specifications of the bill would create nearly 850 manufacturing and construction jobs for five years and 160 ongoing jobs, the governor said, adding it could also help make the state a hub for the offshore wind power industry.
However, Jeff Zellmer of the Maryland Retailers Association told committee members the measure would cost jobs, not create them.
The bill would limit rate increases for residential customers to $1.50 a month and businesses to 1.5 percent. However, Zellmer said supermarkets operate on a 2 percent profit margin and electricity is the second-largest cost for grocery chains.
“We just feel this is the wrong way to go,” Zellmer said, adding that supermarkets “are going to have to cut somebody.”
The retail industry employs 350,000 statewide and is one of Maryland’s largest employers. Supermarkets would have to either pass on costs or cut payrolls, and in some cases won’t be able to pass on costs because of competition from neighboring states, Zellmer said after testifying.
The bill would require utilities to buy offshore renewable energy credits. And it would provide rate incentives for developers. There are no offshore wind farms in the United States, although several are in development.
Concerns over costs to consumers have kept the bill from getting a sixth vote and passing out of the 11-member committee for the past two years. Committee members asked the governor on Wednesday why the state should support one form of alternative energy over another.
Abigail Hopper, an energy adviser to the governor, answered that the administration felt it was appropriate for the government to help jump start an industry.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin questioned whether an offshore wind farm would help alleviate peak summertime energy demand when winds blow strongest during the winter. O’Malley responded that offshore wind would be part of the state’s alternative energy mix.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller moved a member of the committee to another panel to get the sixth vote needed to move the measure to the full Senate.