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O'Malley Starts Third Push For Wind Power Expansion

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Supporters of offshore wind power voiced their opinions in Annapolis on Wednesday.
Matt Bush
Supporters of offshore wind power voiced their opinions in Annapolis on Wednesday.

Maryland governor Martin O'Malley is hoping the third time is a charm when it comes to one of his biggest priorities: expanding wind power off the state's Eastern Shore.

O'Malley went before the Senate Finance committee in Annapolis Wednesday, the committee where this bill died during last year's session. He says changes have been made to it in response to concerns that ratepayers would be footing the bill for getting offshore wind farms up and running.

"After three years of this... with a lot of input from many members of the legislature, no consumer will pay a penny more on their energy bill until such time that these turbines start running," O'Malley says.

But the change needed to get this bill out of the finance committee has likely already been made, as Sen. Anthony Muse, who held up the measure last year over those cost concerns, was assigned to a different committee by Senate president Mike Miller. His replacement, Victor Ramirez, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

Among the reasons for the move, according to Miller, was his desire to see offshore wind power expansion come to a vote in the full Senate, where it's expected to pass.

Speaking to the committee yesterday, O'Malley said the concern that stopped the measure in 2012 — whether ratepayers would be forced to foot the bill just to get the wind farms built — was addressed. Consumers will not face any additional charges until the turbines are producing power under the new bill. 

"The optimistic estimate of when that would be is four years away, at best, O'Malley said.

Supporters of offshore wind believe the problems many others had with the bill have also been fixed. State Sen. James Mathias represents the Eastern Shore, including Ocean City, where he used to be the mayor.

"Their first concern was the vista," Mathias said. "These [turbines] will at least be 10 miles offshore."

But the many concessions needed just to get offshore wind power to this point may stop any wind power companies from coming into Maryland initially, because the incentives offered are not large enough to make it worth their while. But Tommy Landers of the group Environment Maryland isn't worried.

The bill will "position ourselves to start the offshore wind industry off our shores. And to be at the front end of this burgeoning industry as it comes to America ... and it is coming," he said. "And I do believe this bill can lead to our first offshore wind farm, which will eventually be part of an interconnected network of farms up and down the coast."

Opponents believe the incentives for offshore wind will not be worth it and accuse supporters of politically picking and choosing which new energy sources to invest in. They noting that the state is moving very slowly on whether to allow controversial natural gas drilling, known as fracking, in western Maryland.

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