Wind of change gives late boost to O’mal­ley en­ergy mea­sure

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID HILL

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 13-9in 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 in­state 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 about 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 Thomas 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.

ROD LAMKEY JR./THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Mary­land Gov. Martin O’mal­ley is push­ing for an off­shore wind en­ergy bill af­ter a sim­i­lar mea­sure failed last year be­cause of bi­par­ti­san con­cerns about the like­li­hood that its im­ple­men­ta­tion would drive up en­ergy prices.

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