ANNAPOLIS — Governor Martin O’Malley this week made his first big push for the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, which, if approved, would create the framework for the development of an offshore wind farm as close as 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City.
On Wednesday, O’Malley testified on behalf of this offshore wind energy bill in front of the Senate Finance Committee. In each of the last two General Assembly sessions, the governor’s offshore wind energy bill has passed the House before getting stalled in the Senate before the sessions expired.
This year, with the support of Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, the latest attempt appears to be on the fast track. For example, the current legislation has 24 co-sponsors in the Senate, which would be more than enough to pass the bill with just 47 Senators in Maryland. First, however, the bill needs to pass out of the Senate Finance Committee and O’Malley got his first chance to testify on the legislation this week.
“This legislation is important to our jobs future, to our energy future and, therefore, to our children’s future,” he said.
During his testimony, O’Malley said the Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 was as much about the potential job creation as it was about expanding the state’s renewable energy capabilities.
“Offshore wind would support 850 jobs during the construction period and it would allow us to create 160 permanent, good, local jobs once the turbines start spinning,” he said. “And if we succeed in establishing Maryland as the regional manufacturing hub for wind turbines, we will create and sustain even more good jobs.”
The governor told Finance Committee members the proposed legislation would allow Maryland to tap into an unrealized energy resource.
“Wind is one of Maryland’s two most abundant natural resources,” he said. “The U.S. Department of Energy estimates we could be generating 10,000 megawatts off the coast of our state alone. That’s enough energy to power every home in Maryland. This bill would get the ball rolling with 200 megawatts.”
O’Malley suggested there is some urgency to get the offshore wind bill passed this year.
“We can create jobs by harnessing offshore wind, but we have to act,” he said. “Now is the best time, and with our proximity to both our nation’s capital and the mid-Atlantic coast gives us a unique competitive advantage, a unique opportunity to be a leader in the creation of new jobs and the development of renewable energy.”
Opponents have pointed out the potential surcharge on monthly electric bills for Marylanders to subsidize the development of the offshore wind farm off the coast of Ocean City, which were projected at around $3 in some of the early attempts at passing the legislation. However, O’Malley told the committee on Wednesday that figure has been reduced to $1.50 per month and that it wouldn’t be implemented until the wind farm is up and running.
“This bill has very specific consumer protections built in,” he said. “No consumer will pay even a penny more on their energy bill until the turbines start spinning. The most optimistic estimate projects this at four years away.”
O’Malley pointed out the General Assembly has set aggressive goals to protect the environment, including the goal to increase in-state renewable energy generation by 20 percent by 2022. Thus far, the state has only increased its renewable energy portfolio by just under seven percent. In addition, the state has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020 and had only attained a 5-percent reduction thus far.
“Climate change is real,” he said. “The severe weather we’ve seen in recent years is only going to become more severe until we develop more renewable supplies of energy. Every megawatt hour we generate here in Maryland is a megawatt hour we do not generate from imported fossil fuels. By advancing this offshore wind energy project, we have the opportunity to prevent as much as 7.5 million tons of climate-changing pollution from being pumped into our atmosphere just through the first phase of 200 megawatts.”
Shortly after the governor addressed the Finance Committee, the bills detractors were already chiming in. For example, Change Maryland, a fiscal watchdog group, said this week the offshore wind proposal is a tax on energy disguised as something else.
“It seems Martin O’Malley’s priority is to make electricity and gas more expensive,” said Change Maryland Chairman Larry Hogan this week. “He is pushing an increase in the gas tax and pushing a wind energy policy that is not cost effective and guarantees electricity will be more expensive for ratepayers. While there may be political support for offshore wind, 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.”