ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers are preparing to resume debate on one of Gov. Martin O'Malley's major green initiatives, an offshore wind energy bill that stalled during the last legislative session amid concerns about the cost to utility companies and their customers.
The bill would have subsidized the construction of between 80 and 200 wind turbines 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City by obligating the state's four investor-owned utilities — Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Allegheny Power, Delmarva Power and Pepco — to buy offshore wind energy for 25 years.
As a potential alternative, Maryland officials have studied the approach adopted in New Jersey, which will meet its renewable energy mandate through "offshore wind renewable energy certificates," paid for by utilities and awarded to offshore wind farms for the electricity they produce. That approach is similar to the incentive system Maryland has in place for solar energy.
"I'm pretty sure the decision hasn't been made yet, but that model certainly has some appeal to people, partly because .... it's a little less prescriptive. It doesn't say that the energy companies must enter into these long-term contracts," said Del. Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, who was the offshore wind bill's lead sponsor in the House of Delegates.
Hucker said the New Jersey model could also be more attractive to Republicans in the state legislature.
"It's been championed by a Republican governor in New Jersey close by, so you know, we hope it will have some bipartisan appeal if we do go that direction," he said.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, who was the bill's lead sponsor in the Senate this year, said the New Jersey model has "moved more to center stage" in discussions, but noted that the legislation is "clearly not set in stone."
Whatever the eventual approach, proponents of the legislation argue the wind off the Atlantic Coast is an untapped, clean energy resource that can reduce reliance on coal, create jobs and bring long-term stability to electricity prices. Offshore wind farms have been planned in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware, though none have commenced.
Ross Tyler, a project director at the nonprofit advocacy organization Clean Energy Group, said offshore wind development could bring jobs to many different sectors in Maryland.
"These turbine towers will require ladders. There's lighting equipment, there's welding needed, there's specialized diving that's needed. So there's a whole range of different skills and different industry sectors that will be required for offshore wind," Tyler said.
For O'Malley, offshore wind is a critical component of his goal for Maryland to have 20 percent of its electricity supply come from in-state renewable sources by 2022. Such sources currently account for less than 7 percent of electricity supply.
The bill stalled in both the House and Senate last session after the state estimated the cost to consumers could be up to $8.70 a month, and despite a late amendment to cap the rate increase to $2 a month. Legislators decided to hold the bill for study in the Senate Finance Committee.