ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates preliminarily approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill Wednesday, which would provide $1.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies toward the construction of a wind power farm 10-30 miles off the coast of Ocean City.
The House is expected to hold a final vote on the bill soon, and similar legislation is in the Senate, both part of O’Malley’s third attempt to spark the state’s wind industry.
Last year’s bill passed in the House, but failed to make it out of the Senate due to concerns about the added cost to consumers.
Republicans in the House voiced similar concerns Wednesday, and introduced eight amendments, all of which failed.
One amendment, by Delegate Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, would have put a cap on the subsidy charged to commercial establishments, which might use more energy than the average household.
Under the new legislation, the Maryland public would not start paying for the wind farms until they are producing energy, expected as early as 2017.
“It’s a consumption-based cost,” O’Malley’s energy advisor, Abigail Hopper, told the House Economic Matters Committee on Feb. 5. The average residential household uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy every month, according to the Maryland Energy Administration, and would pay about $1.50 a month in subsidies.
But lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who testified on behalf of Safeway Food & Drug, said his client is an enormous user of electricity, and the subsidy would cause food prices to go up.
“Somebody’s got to pay for this,” Bereano said. “It’s a private venture that’s going to be paid for by the state of Maryland.”
On the House floor, Serafini argued that while the bill puts a cap on the subsidy charge for industrial and agricultural clients, commercial establishments should be included as well.
The idea that these commercial groups are going to eat this cost is not realistic, Serafini said. The reality is the consumer is going to pay.
But commercial establishments would contribute one-fourth of the overall load in the state, said Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, chair of the Economic Matters Committee that gave a favorable report on the bill.
“The amendment would effectively kill the project,” Davis said.
He said the earliest it would affect consumers would be 2017, so it is premature to make assessments about what will be passed on to consumers. The amendment was killed on a vote.
Delegate Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico, argued that consumers should be allowed to purchase energy from the cheapest source, and that wind might not be that source.
“If you want green energy to be adopted by consumers, you need to do it in the cheapest way possible,” McDermott said.