OCEAN CITY — A future offshore wind energy farm became closer to reality than ever from a legislative standpoint late last week when the Senate approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislation by a vote of 30-15.
The State Senate approved O’Malley’s Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, making the governor’s signature on the legislation the final legislative piece of the puzzle after two earlier unsuccessful attempts. The House approved the bill in late February by a vote of 86-48, setting up a final vote last Friday before the entire Senate, which had been a stumbling block in each of the last two sessions. With the Senate approval, the bill is now back in the House for some minor reconciliation with that chamber’s version and will likely head to the governor’s desk for final approval.
The proposal calls for a vast wind energy farm of as many as 40 turbines off the coast of Ocean City in an area designated as a Wind Energy Area in a range from 10 miles to 30 miles offshore. The intent is to diversify the state’s clean energy portfolio by providing as many as 200 megawatts of electricity for Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region.
The future wind farm would connect to a larger main transmission line offshore that would come ashore at some point along the Maryland coast and connect to the transmission system on the mainland for distribution across the grid. While praised by many for its clean energy contributions, the proposal is also expected to create hundreds of temporary and permanent jobs.
Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) was among the state senators who voted in favor of the bill last week.
“I’m proud of that vote,” he said. “If we can get out there and harvest that wind power, this is forward-thinking legislation. The Public Service Commission will make sure this is a win for the people of this state.”
Opponents have pointed out the proposed legislation calls for a surcharge on residential and commercial electric bills for Marylanders, essentially creating a taxpayer subsidy for what will largely be a private enterprise. However, Mathias said history is ripe with examples of taxpayer-subsidized infrastructure projects.
“When you stop and look at publicly funded infrastructure, you’ll see that 50 percent of the funding for the B&O Railroad was provided by the state and look at the value of what that system has done for us,” he said. “The same goes for the highway system and the space program for that matter. There are things that came out of those that we use every day.”
Other groups changed their opinion on the proposed offshore wind farm, taking an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. For example, the Coastal Association of Realtors (CAR) formally opposed the governor’s proposal, but now appear to embrace the concept, according to CAR spokesperson Joan Strang, who addressed the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) on Wednesday.
“We did oppose the offshore wind bill, largely because of the contributions required of the residential and commercial ratepayers,” she said. “But it is going to create jobs, and it will make us an exporter, and not an importer, of electric power.”
Environmental groups around the state have praised the and were pleased with the Senate vote last week. For example, Chesapeake Climate Network Executive Director Mike Tidwell shared Mathias’ view of the public investment in the private enterprise.
“This bill is to offshore wind power in the mid-Atlantic what the early railroads were to American transportation,” he said this week. “It’s a driver of innovation that will create jobs, enhance our economy, improve public health and protect the climate.”
Environment Maryland President Tommy Landers said the bill’s approval represented the state’s willingness to embrace energy alternatives.
“With today’s strong vote of 30-15, the Senate of Maryland is acknowledging the reality of global warming, the reality of the need for truly clean energy and the reality of the many benefits of offshore wind power for Maryland,” said Environment Maryland Director Tommy Landers. “These initial steps towards offshore wind power have been the most difficult, but they will turn out to be the most important.”
Meanwhile, not everyone was ready to celebrate the bill’s passage. Change Maryland Chairman Larry Hogan said this week the “feel good” green legislation only masked what is essentially another tax on tax-strapped Marylanders.
“It seems Martin O’Malley’s priority it to make electricity and motor fuels more expensive,” said Hogan. “There are no assurances that this offshore wind proposal will not devolve into crony capitalism that rewards the friends of the governor and political donors. While there may be political support for offshore wind among narrow special interest groups, 96 percent of Marylanders are opposed to higher taxes. And make no mistake, the governor’s offshore wind proposal is simply a tax by another name.”