UPDATE: Maryland Offshore Wind Bill Dies in Committee

Source: James S. McGarry, Offshore Wind • Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Despite broad public support and overwhelming support in one branch of the Legislature, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s Offshore Wind Energy Act once again died in the Senate on the last day of the legislative calendar. The bill, which would have started a bidding process for developers to build about 200 Megawatts of wind power off of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, failed to come to a vote before the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill had previously passed the House of Delegates by a margin of 88-47. Although supporters worked hard to secure a sixth “yea” vote in the eleven member finance committee, Committee Chairman Thomas Middleton said the panel would not vote unless the bill had firm majority support within the committee.

The sixth vote that failed to materialize was that of Prince George’s County Senator Anthony Muse. His reluctance to support this bill came despite mounting pressure within his own district that included many minority owned businesses. These businesses would have benefitted directly through the thousands of jobs that would have been created to build and maintain an offshore wind farm. When contacted, a spokesman from his office cited the cost to ratepayers to explain Senator Muse’s opposition to this plan.

The cost that Senator Muse is concerned about was capped at $2.00 per month for residential customers under the Governor’s original proposal, and was lowered to $1.50 in the bill that finally passed the House. All potential developers who wanted to build the wind farm authorized under this bill would have had to submit a proposal to Maryland’s Public Service Commission demonstrating how they would contain costs.

If approved, the rate increases would not have occurred until the project was completed and producing power sometime in 2017. In addition, the bill would have created a $10 Million Offshore Wind Development Fund, paid for by the project developer and an agreement with Exelon Corporation, to support a local supply chain for small and minority-owned businesses and a potential wind business incubator. State estimates predicted the project’s economic impact during the next five years could have reached $2 billion, with $8.7 million in additional state tax revenues.

Senator Muse’s opposition to this bill, which was proposed and strongly supported by Governor O’Malley, came amidst other attacks on the Governor’s legislative agenda. Last Saturday, as lawmakers were scrambling to conclude a series of negotiations to finalize several other bills, Senator Muse produced a stack of amendments 18 inches high. Although there is some speculation as to why the Senator tried to kill the Governor’s bills, many suspect that it is tied to his recently failed run for U.S. Senate. The Governor publically endorsed Senator Muse’s opponent, current U.S. Senator Ben Cardin.

The frustration among supporters was evident in Annapolis today, culminating in the arrest of three students who blocked the entrance of the General Assembly to demand a vote on the Offshore Wind Energy Act. Members of the Maryland Student Climate Coalition ignored police warnings and sat atop the steps with signs saying “Maryland Wind Works” for several minutes before they were arrested.

Ultimately, the protesters’ actions were in vain, as another legislative session came to a close in Maryland without a final vote on Governor O’Malley’s signature offshore wind legislation.