OCEAN CITY — A future offshore wind energy farm, proposed as close as 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City, inched closer to reality this week with the anticipated passage by the entire state Senate now the only stumbling block from a legislative standpoint.
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 was passed last Friday by the House by a vote of 86-48. The Senate Finance Committee passed the legislation by a vote of 7-4 on Tuesday, setting up a final vote before the entire Senate, which is expected to approve the offshore wind bill.
In each of the last two years, the House has approved the governor’s offshore wind initiative, but the stumbling block has been the Senate committee vote. The bill has stalled in the Senate Finance Committee the last two years and the session has expired before a vote could be taken on the Senate floor. However, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller this year swapped out members of the Finance Committee to ensure the bill’s passage.
Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) said this week he voted for the bill in committee after a couple of amendments he deemed critical to his district were approved. One of the amendments would offer protections to the businesses that use the most energy and would be forced to pay the highest fees.
“We were able to get a couple of good local amendments on the bill before it came out,” he said. “For one, to the extent possible, the Public Service Commission will be required to afford protections to businesses in the state.”
Mathias said another amendment attached to the bill by the Senate Finance Committee would clearly identify where the transmission line would connect the offshore wind field to the mainland. Early recommendations suggested the main transmission line cross over or under Assateague Island to a distribution facility inland, but that was taken off the table when conservation groups rallied against the plan. However, the transmission line has to come ashore somewhere and that would likely be in Worcester County, presumably somewhere in Ocean City.
“Another amendment could determine where the main transmission line comes ashore,” said Mathias. “When talking about upgrades to the grid, the assumption has always been the transmission line will come ashore somewhere within the Delmarva Peninsula. The amendment that passed would ensure that it comes ashore in Maryland.”
Proponents of the offshore wind farm, which could initially place as many as 40 wind turbines in an approved location anywhere from 10 miles to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City, praised the positive votes by the entire House and the Senate Committee this week.
“This is a great day for our future, for our kids and for our climate,” said Environment Maryland Executive Director Tommy Landers. “Maryland has so much to gain by moving toward real energy solutions like offshore wind power, and we have so much to lose by not doing so.”
Opponents have pointed out the potential surcharge on monthly electric bills for Marylanders to subsidize the development of the offshore wind farm, which were projected at $3 in some of the earlier attempts. The current bill projects the monthly surcharge at $1.50, but opponents are still wincing at taxpayers basically subsidizing what will largely be a private enterprise.
Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B) has opposed the offshore wind bill from the start. McDermott said the relatively low monthly surcharge only masks what will be much larger costs when businesses pass their increased energy costs on to consumers.
“It would be bad enough if this was the only electricity tax we had to pay over the next 25 years, but this is just the beginning,” he said. “While businesses in Maryland will be charged the lion’s share of the taxes and fees associated with this boondoggle, it is the consumer who will actually be footing the bill. As a result, you will be paying much higher prices for every quart of milk and every piece of clothing you buy from a store as a result of the wind tax.”
McDermott said several amendments were offered in the House, but were rejected by supporters intent on passing the legislation.
“I offered an amendment to this bill which would have required our energy providers to purchase their green energy mandates from the cheapest source available so our families could be spared the high costs,” he said. “This was rejected by those who are under their own mandate from the governor to advance this bill no matter the cost.”
Another amendment attempted in the House would have ensured the wind turbines and associated equipment are made in the U.S. and not overseas as expected.
“Instead of focusing on real energy policies that could move Maryland forward and make our region energy independent, those in charge will strap our future to a horse that can’t win, place or show,” he said. “These folks would not even allow us to pass an amendment that would require the equipment be manufactured in America, and they tell us this is a ‘jobs’ bill for Maryland.”