Governor Hopes Third Time A Charm For Offshore Wind Farm

OCEAN CITY — As expected, Governor Martin O’Malley this week introduced legislation that would, if successful after two failed attempts, establish the framework for the development of an offshore wind farm as close as 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City.

The O’Malley Administration on Tuesday introduced the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, another attempt to diversify the state’s energy portfolio. Similar legislation has been introduced in each of the last two General Assembly sessions, but was not passed by state lawmakers over a variety of issues.

The latest version looks a lot like the previous incarnations with a few tweaks. The proposal calls for an offshore wind energy facility in a designated Wind Energy Area in a range from 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City. Earlier this month, the state’s Board of Public Works approved a $3 million contract for a geophysical survey of the vast WEA, the western edge of which is just 10 miles off the coast of the resort.

“In this competitive new economy, the states that win will be those that succeed in leveraging innovation into job creation and economic growth,” said O’Malley this week. “In Maryland, our emerging green sector is a critically important part of our innovation economy, and therefore, our ability to create jobs and compete globally. By choosing to move forward with this legislation, we’re not only creating jobs, but we are also laying the groundwork for a better, more sustainable future for our children.”

Many believe this will likely be the year the governor’s ambitious offshore wind energy plan will pass and it appears to have considerable support. The bill has 24 co-sponsors in the Senate and the legislation cross-filed in the House has 58 co-sponsors. Perhaps more importantly, the 2013 version has the support of the leadership in both the House and Senate, suggesting the votes are likely in place to get it passed.

“Alternative energy is critical to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, cleaning the Chesapeake Bay and maintaining the high quality of life that we enjoy here in Maryland,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Also on board this year is House Speaker Michael Busch.

“Creating offshore wind opportunities are not only good for the state’s long-term energy needs and the health of the environment, but also a good employment engine for Maryland,” he said.

Locally, lower shore lawmakers are once again split on the proposed Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, with Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) and Delegate Norm Conway (D-38B) on board as co-sponsors, while Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B) is not in support of the legislation.

“I support the legislation,” said Mathias this week. “By and large, it’s an attempt to put together a template for a successful offshore wind program.”

Meanwhile, McDermott did not sign onto the House bill and continues to question some of the elements of the legislation, particularly the use of public taxpayer money to help subsidize what will largely be a private venture. For example, prior legislation called for residential electric customers to pay a surcharge of around $2 per month to help pay for the development of the offshore wind farm with higher rates for commercial users.

However, the latest bill sets a cap on the residential surcharge at $1.50 per month and 1.5 percent on the larger commercial users. Despite the changes, McDermott said this week the 2013 bill closely resembles the prior failed attempts.

“It basically looks like a rehash from the last time,” he said. “They’re really downplaying the $2-per-month fee on residential electric bills and talking up the job creation and the economic growth, but it could have a reverse affect.”

McDermott said ratepayers in Maryland will continue to forward-fund the development of offshore wind for several years before the first turbine is up and running. He also added despite its obvious green benefits and job creation benefits, the finished product will cost residential and commercial ratepayers four times as more for electric energy in the future.

“It’s going to take years to build, but the ratepayers in Maryland will be funding this private enterprise until that happens,” he said. “We’ll be paying for that for years before the first turbine is built. If and when it’s up and running, we’ll be paying 25 cents per kilowatt hour, whereas now we’re paying around six cents per kilowatt hour.”

Already, opponents are lining up again against the governor’s proposed offshore wind energy legislation. For example, Change Maryland this week issued a statement essentially calling the governor’s offshore wind plan another feather in his cap for higher aspirations.

“This scheme is simply another tax increase by another name, forcing ratepayers to subsidize a box to be checked for O’Malley’s presidential to-do list,” said Hogan. “When the results of financial waste become clear, O’Malley will no longer be governor, but we will still be paying the bills for decades to come. Renewable energy is too important to let political ambitions ruin it.”