- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill received a late gust of support Monday that indicates lawmakers may be serious about pushing the measure into law during the session’s final two weeks.

The House Economic Matters Committee voted 13-9 in favor of the bill, sending it to the House floor where debate is expected to begin this week.

The legislation would set up a regulatory framework for the new technology, allowing wind firms to build turbines off the Eastern Shore and sell renewable-energy credits to in-state energy companies in an effort to increase the state’s renewable-energy portfolio.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is taking his second shot at wind energy after a similar bill failed last year because of bipartisan concerns over the likelihood that its implementation would drive up energy prices.

The governor’s bill this year would cap potential rate increases at $2 a month for the average residential customer and 2.5 percent for businesses but has sat in House and Senate committees for much of the session over lingering cost concerns.

The Economic Matters Committee added a slew of amendments to the bill Monday, including lowering the rate-increase caps to $1.50 a month and 1.5 percent in a move that supporters hope will win over lawmakers.

“This bill means we are going to lock in clean wind energy and the jobs that come with it,” said Delegate Tom Hucker, Montgomery Democrat and bill co-sponsor. “It’s been moderated so it’s a bill that a majority of us can get behind.”

Supporters of offshore wind have predicted the technology could reduce dependence on nonrenewable energy, create jobs and bring millions of dollars to Maryland. They have argued the state must act quickly to avoid losing business to other East Coast states.

Proponents also acknowledge that wind energy will likely come at a greater cost than traditional sources such as coal or natural gas but argue prices will eventually come in line once wind farms are up and running.

Opponents have questioned the current market for viable wind developers - pointing to slow progress in other states and the financial problems that led to the failure last year of a planned Delaware wind project - and argue that prices are near impossible to predict.

Delegate Steven R. Schuh, Anne Arundel Republican, said state analysts have projected that conventional energy prices would have to increase by 6 percent over the next 20 years to bring them in line with wind costs, but only rose by about 2.5 percent over the past 20 years.

Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Talbot Republican, said that while wind farms could potentially bring benefits to the state, the risks are too great on constituents she represents on the Eastern Shore.

“We are going to be the ones who have the transmission lines in our backyard,” she said. “We are going to have the most at stake and we’ll have the least to gain.”

While the House is expected to begin debate Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee is still considering its version of the bill.

Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, Charles Democrat, said the committee’s members are closely divided on the issue and likely won’t vote unless the legislation first passes the House.

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