By Michael Dresser and Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun
9:43 PM EDT, March 18, 2013
Gov. Martin O'Malley achieved a long-sought victory Monday night as the General Assembly gave final approval to his bill to encourage development of a wind energy industry featuring dozens of giant turbines off the state's Atlantic coast.
Passage came quickly and quietly when the House of Delegates agreed without debate to relatively minor changes the Senate had made. The final vote was 88-48. The legislation now goes to O'Malley's desk for his signature.
Advocates for the wind legislation said it would help diversify Maryland's sources of clean, renewable power.
"It's a great day for Maryland. [This] action makes Maryland one of the nation's leaders in renewable energy and creates hundreds of durable green jobs," said Del. Tom Hucker, a Montgomery County Democrat who proposed such a bill even before O'Malley did.
The legislation would require Maryland electricity customers to pay a subsidy of up to $1.50 a month if a wind project is built.
The bill would require electricity suppliers in Maryland to get up to 2.5 percent of their power from offshore wind as early as 2017. And it would offer a successful developer a subsidy of up to $1.7 billion over 20 years, paid for by Maryland's residential and commercial electric ratepayers through slightly higher bills.
To overcome opposition from lawmakers concerned about the potential impact on consumers' budgets, O'Malley agreed that a developer would have to limit the extra cost to residential customers to $1.50 per month. The electric bills of commercial customers could go up 1.5 percent.
O'Malley scaled back the size of the project that would be supported by Maryland ratepayers to keep those costs down. The project would be about a third the size of similar projects proposed in other states.
As the bill wound its way through the House and Senate, Republican lawmakers, led by Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin, opposed the legislation because of objections to government subsidies to promote development of a particular industry. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, argued that offshore wind is the most expensive source of energy and that the turbines would be vulnerable to a major storm such as Hurricane Sandy.
Last year, opponents were able to stop the bill in a Senate committee, but this year, with the help of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the legislation cleared that roadblock.
Six companies expressed interest last year in bidding for a lease off Ocean City, but to date they haven't been required to put any money down to stake a claim. That would come once the Interior Department holds an auction for the Maryland patch of Outer Continental Shelf and selects one or more winning bidders. Administration officials hope that will happen by the end of the year.
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