- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley testified Thursday on his offshore wind energy bill, telling a House committee the proposal would create jobs and lower reliance on fossil fuels while causing only a modest increase in energy prices.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is taking a second crack at establishing framework for the technology after supporting a failed version of the legislation in the 2011 General Assembly session. The bill would allow wind energy firms to set up turbines off the Eastern Shore and sell renewable-energy credits to in-state energy companies.

“This is a big undertaking,” Mr. O’Malley told the House Economic Matters Committee. “But it isn’t beyond our grasp.”

The governor has argued that implementing offshore wind will reduce dependence on nonrenewable energy sources such as coal and natural gas and help the state meet its goal of receiving 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022.

The state now gets about 7 percent from renewable sources.

State Republicans and Democrats have raised questions about the legislation, largely focusing on an acknowledgement by the governor that it will likely result in higher energy costs.

Mr. O’Malley has said implementing the plan will indeed increase costs but utility bills will essentially increase by no more than $2 a month.

Wind energy firms would also have to keep projected energy bill increases for businesses to no more than 2.5 percent.

“In light of the economy and everything that’s going on, of course price is a consideration,” said committee Chairman Dereck E. Davis, Prince George’s Democrat. “I think the governor’s trying to take a balanced approach between making sure the price isn’t too onerous now but making sure that we prepare for the future.”

The governor says wind firms are eager to invest in the state, but opponents have argued offshore wind is too expensive and risky in current financial times, pointing to a project in Delaware that failed last year because of lacking funds.

Critics have also argued the state should focus on the cheaper and abundant coal and natural gas.

“We have many, many resources out there to improve our energy supply,” said Delegate Kelly M. Schulz, Frederick Republican.

Mr. O’Malley has contended that prices for coal and natural gas will increase in coming years, bringing them more in line with the costs of offshore wind. He has also argued wind could become cheaper than other sources once wind farms are up and running.

The Senate is also considering its own version of the bill, and Democratic leaders have said they hope to work with the governor to pass a bill this session.

“We may have to tweak it to make sure it’s acceptable to the membership,” Mr. Davis said. “Everything’s on the table, I hope, to try and get something down.”

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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