With lawmakers on the fence about one of his signature legislative issues this year, Gov. Martin O'Malley today made the case that investing in offshore wind would help create jobs in the short term and stabilize energy rates over the long run.
The Democratic governor urged the General Assembly to pass his offshore wind plan because "if we don't make the right choices," he said, fossil fuels will continue to rise, global warming will continue and other states will jump ahead in the country's relatively new push to harness wind for electricity.
O'Malley spoke at Annapolis' City Dock, surrounded by environmental activists and building trades workers who stand to benefit from new jobs if the state adopts a plan to build and install steel wind turbines more than 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City.
But lawmakers have been reluctant about the plan and its associated costs, which would be passed along to utility customers across the state. Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, chairman of the Senate committee considering the proposal, recently suggested it may need a study before lawmakers embrace it.
To allay fears about rate increases, O'Malley today suggested an amendment limiting the added cost to a maximum of $2 per month in the first year. Sen. Paul Pinsky, who has pushed for wind energy the past two years, said he's not sure if the one-year cap would be enough to move the bill forward.
Less than three weeks remain in the 2011 legislative session.
The wind legislation would direct the state's utilities to enter 25-year contracts with energy firms to build a wind farm that could produce about 500 megawatts of power. The cost could exceed $1 billion and would be borne by the state's ratepayers.
The governor has stressed that the charge to ratepayers would be negligible: The administration estimates it would be $1.44 a month, but other estimates are higher.
Both senators and delegates have expressed concerns about the potential costs.
Del. Dereck Davis, chairman of the House committee vetting O'Malley's wind bill, predicted the $2 cap would "certainly be helpful" in winning over lawmakers, though he, too, was unsure if it would be enough to get the bill through this year.
Told that the proposed cap is for Year One only, Davis asked, "What about the other years?"
O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said the legislation provides several safeguards about ratepayer costs in future years.
The Public Service Commission is required to reject wind proposals that are not comparable with other offshore wind projects, and must evaluate "lowest cost impact over the term of the power purchase agreement on ratepayers."
Building trades leaders stressed the jobs that offshore wind could bring. Maryland has lost 85,000 manufacturing jobs over the past two decades, one speaker said.
Jim Strong of the United Steelworkers of Maryland said the state would not be able to revive its employment base "until we start making things."