Tur­bu­lence re­mains for wind power bill

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID HILL

AN­NAPO­LIS | The House is ex­pected to vote Fri­day on a bill that would pave the way for off­shore-wind en­ergy.

Law­mak­ers be­gan de­bate Thurs­day on the pro­posal, which would set the reg­u­la­tory frame­work for a sys­tem in which wind-en­ergy com­pa­nies would set up tur­bines off the coast of Ocean City and sell re­new­able-en­ergy cred­its to Mary­land en­ergy providers seek­ing to boost their re­new­able-en­ergy port­fo­lios to keep in line with state stan­dards.

Gov. Martin O’mal­ley is spon­sor­ing the bill as one of his premier pieces of leg­is­la­tion in this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly and hopes to re­bound from the fail­ure of a sim­i­lar bill last year.

Mr. O’mal­ley, a Demo­crat, is mount­ing a late charge to get the bill passed be­fore the assem­bly ad­journs April 9. Sup­port­ers say the bill will put Mary­land at the fore­front of the wind-en­ergy move­ment and cre­ate jobs while re­duc­ing the state’s de­pen­dence on non­re­new­able en­ergy sources.

“It makes Mary­land a leader. We want jobs and sus­tain­able green Mary­land jobs, and this pro­vides them,” said Del­e­gate Tom Hucker, Mont­gomery Demo­crat and the bill’s lead House spon­sor. “We’ve sub­si­dized coal and nu­clear en­ergy for decades, and now it’s time for this.”

De­spite a push from the gov­er­nor, Repub­li­cans and many Democrats have been reluc­tant to ac­cept the pro­posal be­cause of the strong like­li­hood that im­ple­ment­ing off­shore wind — which is cur­rently a more ex­pen­sive en­ergy source than coal or nat­u­ral gas — will cause res­i­dents’ en­ergy bills to go up.

Last year’s wind bill died af­ter some stud­ies es­ti­mated it could drive up house­hold en­ergy bills by as much as $9 a month.

This year’s bill would cap av­er­age house­hold rate in­creases at no more than $1.50 a month and com­mer­cial bill in­creases at no more than 1.5 per­cent.

Op­po­nents say such in­creases are still too much.

“It’s us­ing tax­payer sub­si­dies at a time when we’re rais­ing their in­come taxes and their flush taxes and their boat taxes and ev­ery other tax we can think of,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader An­thony J. O’don­nell, Calvert Re­pub­li­can. “This is bad pol­icy and we shouldn’t be do­ing it.”

Del­e­gate Dereck E. Davis, Prince Ge­orge’s Demo­crat and chair­man of the House Eco­nomic Mat­ters Com­mit­tee that ap­proved the bill Mon­day, down­played the ef­fect that wind en­ergy could have on con­sumer bills.

He said the cost gap be­tween wind and non­re­new­able sources is ex­pected to close in com­ing years and that ratepay­ers will pay only for their en­ergy and won’t be on the hook for de­vel­op­ers’ ini­tial in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments.

“Once it’s come on line, the cit­i­zens will be pay­ing for that power that was ac­tu­ally pro­duced,” Mr. Davis said. “Con­struc­tion over­runs or man­u­fac­tur­ing de­fects . . . none of that is on the ratepay­ers; all of that is on the de­vel­oper.”

House de­bate Thurs­day was largely dom­i­nated by Repub­li­cans who crit­i­cized the bill’s im­pact on ratepay­ers and also ques­tioned whether there is a suf­fi­cient mar­ket of wind-en­ergy firms ready to make an in­vest­ment in the state.

Del­e­gate Michael A. Mcder­mott, Worces­ter Re­pub­li­can, sug­gested the state would be bet­ter off pur­su­ing a short-term, small-scale wind project — such as one an­nounced this week in Virginia — be­fore over­haul­ing statewide en­ergy pol­icy.

“The idea is first to see whether or not it is ac­tu­ally worth­while,” said Mr. Mcder­mott, adding that the state should “let the in­dus­try drive this force in­stead of let­ting the state driv­ing it through ex­pense of the ratepay­ers.”

If the bill passes the House, it would move to the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee for dis­cus­sion next week and po­ten­tial pas­sage to the Se­nate floor.

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