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Maryland legislators to resume wind power discussions

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Maryland legislators will meet Tuesday to resume discussions of offshore wind development in the state, four months after they shot down Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature green-energy proposal.

The Senate Finance Committee will discuss the pros and cons of wind technology, which the governor has touted as a job-creating, environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuels while acknowledging that it likely will increase energy costs for consumers.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, lobbied heavily this year for a bill that would have required state utility companies to enter 20-year contracts to supplement their power with wind turbines built off the Atlantic coast. The bill would have guaranteed revenue for prospective developers.

While the governor estimated offshore wind would create as many as 20,000 jobs in the state, many skeptical legislators focused on studies that showed its cost would raise consumers' monthly energy bills by as much as $9 a household.

Mr. O'Malley has pledged to keep rate hikes to less than $2 a month.

Both chambers of the state's Democrat-controlled General Assembly killed their versions of the bill but pledged to study the issue this summer.

Despite concerns, wind-energy supporters are confident that they can answer critics' questions and hash out any cost issues in time to pass a bill next year.

"Big, complicated bills rarely pass in one year, and this is the first year that the committee had seen this issue," said Delegate Thomas Hucker, Montgomery Democrat and lead sponsor of the House bill. He also serves on the House Economic Matters Committee, which will study the issue next month.

"With some good work in the fall, we should have a bill we're comfortable with," he said Monday.

Mr. Hucker disputed estimates that wind turbines could sharply increase costs. He argued that many of those projections were made under the assumption that costs for traditional energy and natural gas will stagnate or decrease in the next decade, which he said is unlikely.

"A buck or two a month is a small price to pay for energy independence, healthy air and green jobs," he said. "We have a huge, historic opportunity to really create a whole new industry."

Wind-energy supporters have pledged to work with skeptics, but they also have contended that they are in a race against other states and could lose out if they act too slowly.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles Democrat who sponsored his chamber's version of the legislation, has said the O'Malley initiative died simply because lawmakers didn't have enough time to fully digest the numbers in such a busy General Assembly session.

Several firms have expressed interest in setting up wind farms in Maryland, and wind supporters have argued that failure to pass a bill next year could lead business to other coastal states including Delaware, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where last year the Obama administration approved permits for what is expected to be the country's first offshore wind farm.

The 130-turbine, 468-megawatt farm is being built by Cape Wind in the Nantucket Sound.

Similar projects are in development in New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas, and roughly eight developers proposed to lease lots in federal waters and in Delaware, where last year NRG Bluewater Wind began negotiating a lease with the federal government for an offshore farm.

Jim Lanard, president of the District-based Offshore Wind Development Coalition, said there is still time for Maryland to act and that legislators should take a measured approach.

"I think that the governor has taken a very deliberate, careful process to get answers," Mr. Lanard said. "Maryland has definitely not missed the boat. They're a little bit behind but can catch up quickly."

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