By Daniel Menefee
The House cleared the O’Malley administration’s offshore wind power bill for a final vote on Friday — enduring heavy gusts from Republican lawmakers who questioned the cost and viability of putting 40 wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City.
“Before we go building 40 of these [wind turbines] offshore, let’s do this step by step,” said Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel. He offered an amendment to build one wind turbine to study the viability of offshore wind in Maryland. He said the Virginia legislature approved a similar plan on Wednesday.
“It will test the economics of large scale offshore wind projects, it will test the mechanics of construction and issues related to offshore wind projects, and it will study the ability of offshore wind projects to withstand weather conditions” 11 miles off the coast of Ocean City.
“It is really doing the next step, so we don’t go wasting money ,and we make sure we do it right,” George said.
Chairman opposes study
Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, chair of the Economic Matter Committee opposed the amendment and said a developer would bear all the costs of a feasibility study.
“I’m not sure how much we could learn from a [study],” said Davis. “The risks are strictly on the developers.” He said it was up to the developers to determine the feasibility of an offshore wind farm before assuming the risk of construction.
Del. Patrick McDonough, R-Harford, supported the amendment because of what he called “confusion in the industry” and the lack of investment dollars for offshore wind projects. He said a developer withdrew from a project in New Jersey because it could not secure financing after Congress removed incentives for offshore wind development.
Davis agreed with McDonough that the project would probably not go forward without federal subsidies.
“We’re not saying this has to happen,” Davis said. “What we’re doing is putting regulatory guidelines in place [in the event a developer can get financing].”
“We’ve lowered the price consumer will pay,” Davis said.
The proposed project would produce 200 megawatts annually by 2017 and cost households a surcharge of $1.50 per 1000 kilowatt-hour. Businesses would pay a surcharge of 1.5% on total consumption.
George’s amendment failed by a vote of 92-41.
Go slow on wind, yet speed up on fracking
After the Thursday’s session, Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, took issue with the “go slow approach” on wind power suggested by Republican lawmakers who are pushing hard to open Marcellus Shale drilling in western Maryland “almost immediately,” without time to consider the impact.
“Fracking” has been blamed for contamination of groundwater in Pennsylvania and New York over the last decade, where Marcellus Shale exploration has been the most active.
“It’s an interesting contrast that many in the chamber are proposing a ‘go-slow approach’ on offshore wind, but are full-speed-ahead on fracking the Marcellus Shale [for natural gas,]” Mizeur said. “We know what the environmental and public health consequences are, and yet they say drilling the Marcellus Shale is good for job growth?”
Mizeur believes Marcellus Shale exploration in western Maryland would rely more on workers from other states with expertise in drilling and could not yield as many jobs in Maryland as offshore wind.
“We have the opportunity and ability to build a niche industry and create jobs in Maryland,” she said. “The wind bill will create 1,300 jobs that will stay in Maryland.”
Costs of wind power questioned
Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, questioned the monthly cost to consumers and to local governments. She said a school system in her district would pay an additional $72,000 in energy costs each year, “which is a teacher-and-a-half.”
Krebs said the estimated household consumption of 1000 kilowatt-hours per month was too low. She said her household averages 3000 kilowatt-hours each month.
Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Caroline, offered an amendment to cap rates on farms at the residential rate of $1.50 per 1000–kilowatt-hours, up to 3,000 per month. Under the original bill, family owned agricultural lands would have paid the 1.5% consumption rate that would apply to businesses. The amendment passed.
Another amendment offered by Del. David Rudolph, D-Cecil, moved the costs of any study on offshore wind from ratepayers to a $30 million settlement the state received from Constellation-Exelon last year. This amendment also passed.
The bill is expected to pass on Friday.