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O’Malley pitches offshore wind; Appears before Senate panel that killed bill last year

With hope of having better luck this year, Gov. Martin O’Malley went before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday to pitch his plan for boosting offshore wind energy projects off Maryland’s coast.

Appearing more than 20 mintues late, the governor urged the panel to act on his bill, which he said would help fight climate change, stimulate clean energy and make Maryland the hub of a new renewable industry.

“This legislation is important to our energy future, to our jobs future and therefore important to our children’s future,” he said.

He predicted construction of wind turbines 10 to 30 miles off Ocean City would support 850 temporary jobs and 160 permanent ones. The bill would require electricity ratepayers to subsidize a 200-megawatt wind facility, but O’Malley stressed that the bill sets a “very narrow strike zone” for the size of that subsidy, limiting costs to residential ratepayers to no more than $1.50 a month. The governor also noted that the bill calls for a $10 million fund to be used to encourage participation in the project by minority contractors and businesses.

A similar bill failed to make it out of the Finance Committee last year, but the membership has been juggled so that it’s considered likely to make it to the full Senate, where supporters believe they have enough votes to pass it. The House has previously approved offshore wind legislation.

Whether any turbines get built off Maryland’s coast if the legislation passes is an open question, however, as low natural gas prices and uncertainty about lucrative federal tax credits could affect prospects for any projects to move forward. The federal Department of the Interior is expected to move ahead with leasing sites off Maryland’s coast later this year.

Before the hearing began, environmentalists and wind energy advocates rallied in Lawyer’s Mall at the State House, where they heard from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who’s signaled his support.