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Offshore wind bill breezes past GOP amendments

After eight proposed amendments and nearly an hour of debate Wednesday, the House advanced Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to subsidize an offshore wind farm without making changes.

The amendments, all introduced by Republicans, called for a range of actions – from requiring turbine components be made in the U.S. to excluding Western Maryland counties from rate hikes spelled out in the bill.

“The [wind power] projects we have in Western Maryland people in the rest of the state are not paying for,” said Del. Wendell R. Beitzel (R-Dist. 1A) of Accident, in support of an amendment proposed by Del. Leroy E. Myers Jr. (R-Dist. 1C) of Clear Spring that would have excluded power customers in Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties from the rate hikes outlined in the bill. The amendment failed 89-44.

O’Malley’s bill creates a process for the Public Service Commission to approve an offshore wind developer to build a 200-megawatt wind farm in a designated area off the coast of Ocean City. One requirement for any developer’s proposal is that the estimated monthly bill for the average Maryland residential customer cannot increase more than $1.50. Major commercial power consumers cannot be charged more than 1.5 percent of their monthly bill.

Another amendment, proposed by Del. Andrew A. Serafini (R-Dist. 2A) of Hagerstown, would have capped the amount of usage on which a commercial customer would have to pay extra at 60,000 kwh. Serafini said that industrial and commercial customers likely will have to pass the rate hike on to consumers in the form of higher prices for products.

Serafini’s proposal “would effectively kill the project,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro, chair of the House Economic Matters Committee. The amendment failed 90-45.

Wind power will be much more expensive to produce than traditional forms of energy, such as fossil fuels, because a new infrastructure will have to be developed. The tab for customers is designed to offset the cost of infrastructure construction, but will only be applied to monthly bills when the turbines are up and running, which won’t happen until 2017 at the earliest, O’Malley administration officials said.

The governor has taken the wind bill to the General Assembly for three years running. Although it got held up in Senate committee last year, the measure passed in the House, so Wednesday’s advance by voice vote was not unexpected.

The Senate Finance committee has not yet voted on the bill, but six of the committee’s 11 members are co-sponsors, so the legislation is expected to get a favorable report.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Friday.