ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley on Tuesday rolled out a measure he hopes will put the state on the path to becoming a leader in offshore wind energy development in the mid-Atlantic region.
The governor's third try in three years resembles a bill he pushed for last year. It would establish a regulatory framework to create an incentive for companies to invest in an offshore wind project by requiring electricity suppliers to buy offshore renewable energy credits.
The proposal, which would take years to develop, would potentially increase monthly electricity bills for ratepayers by up to $1.50 a month. Non-residential ratepayers could see increases of up to 1.5 percent. However, ratepayers would not begin paying more until electricity is produced by a project, which likely wouldn't be until 2017 at the earliest.
"Nothing happens until the windmills go up, and when they do go up no doubt there will hopefully be other partners involved here," O'Malley said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The Democratic governor is finding a more receptive audience to the plan this year in the state Senate. Last year, a scaled-back version of O'Malley's initial proposal passed the House of Delegates, but did not make it to the full Senate for a vote.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, moved a member of the Senate Finance Committee to another panel in order to secure the vote needed to get the measure to the full Senate for debate. Last week, Miller said that the measure has 24 sponsors in a chamber where 24 votes are needed to pass a bill.
O'Malley said challenges clearly remain to get the project off the ground off the coast of Ocean City. Still, he's confident the measure will put Maryland on the right track to lead a partnership with neighboring states to lead an offshore wind development off the East Coast.
"I don't believe any one state can do this by itself," O'Malley said. He noted that he spoke with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell on Monday in Washington when the two were in town for President Barack Obama's inauguration about Markell's interest in developing offshore wind energy.
Both governors have discussed teaming up with the federal government to establish a wind energy manufacturing industry in the mid-Atlantic region.
While emphasizing the environmental benefits, O'Malley also said the 200- megawatt project that the proposal envisions is expected to create 850 new jobs during a five-year construction and manufacturing phase. There would be about 160 permanent workers to operate and maintain the project, the governor said.
The measure applies Maryland's minority business enterprise requirements to all offshore wind projects.
Environmentalists cheered the proposal.
"It's critical the Maryland state legislature passes a strong offshore wind bill this session to create more jobs in Maryland and provide clean energy to our communities, all while reducing our dependence on dirty fuels like coal that contribute to climate disruption," said Christine Hill, conservation and policy association for Sierra Club, Maryland.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, however, said offshore wind is expensive, compared to natural gas. He also questioned its reliability, noting that the wind doesn't blow as much in August when energy demands are high.
"The economics on a comparative basis continue to deteriorate," the Cecil County Republican said.
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