Offshore Wind Farm Nears Success in Senate

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., pushed Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill closer to passage Thursday, with several amendments pending and several having already failed.

A final vote could come Friday or Monday.

The House passed the bill in February, and if it passes in the Senate, $1.5 billion of ratepayer subsidies will go toward the construction of a wind power farm 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City as early as 2017.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” said Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, who had several concerns with the bill and introduced two amendments that failed.

Under the new legislation, the average residential household would pay $1.50 a month in subsidies, a consumption-based cost for 1,000 kilowatt-hours of usage.

But the residential rate could rise and fall depending on the price of electricity, said Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles, chair of the Senate Finance Committee that issued a favorable report on the bill.

“If the price of electricity goes up, that $1.50 will go down,” Middleton said. The Public Service Commission will only accept a developer if the projected charge to the average residential user is no more than $1.50.

There are, however, caps on how much agricultural and industrial energy-users would pay.

Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, introduced an amendment that would extend that cap to commercial businesses out of concern that increased costs would pass down to consumers.

But the amendment failed.

“Every time you make an exception, you start to take the financial viability of the project,” Middleton said.

Others argued that Maryland should meet its renewable energy requirements with less expensive energy.

“We’re creating a special carve-out for the most expensive energy that the world could possibly produce,” said Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore.

The bill requires that the Public Service Commission only accept wind farm developer applications if they demonstrate positive economic, environmental and health benefits to the state.

CNS 03-07-13