Senate Finance Committee starts summer study
Maryland's Senate Finance Committee kicked off a series of five hearings on Gov. Martin O'Malley's off-shore wind proposal Tuesday, the beginning of a study period intended to help lawmakers hash through their concerns with the governor's bill.
The time away didn't seem to resolve any issues: Lawmakers expressed the same concerns about cost that led the committee to shelve the bill earlier this year.
O'Malley, a Democrat, has proposed authorizing a wind farm in the waters off Ocean City. The legislation would allow the state's Public Service Commission to enter long term contracts with wind energy developers, making energy deals that would increase ratepayer costs -- at least in the short term. Wind energy is more expensive than traditional energy sources because of the high development costs.
During today's hearing Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, wanted to know why Maryland should be on the leading edge of the off-shore wind industry. "Why not wait for other states?" Kittleman asked. Over time the costs associated with wind energy are projected to decline as technology improves.
Jim Lanard, the President of the Offshore Wind Developers Coalition, said that speedy passage of the legislation would put Maryland on the "vanguard" of a developing field and guarantee jobs for the state. He said that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, is backing off-shore wind in his state purely for the economic development benefits.
Wind proponents say that any new plant in the region would have benefits for Maryland, an explanation that Kittleman cast aside with a quick quip. "Yes," Kittleman said, "Kind of like a 'regional win?' " (The Republican Senator was referencing O'Malley's spin when defense contractor Northop Grumman picked Virginia as its corporate headquarters over Maryland.)
Lawmakers also raised a concern that a federal loan guarantee program for off-shore wind projects has been gutted, which would increase the costs of borrowing money for a new wind project and therefore further increase the financial burden to ratepayers. "It raises an additional hurdle," said Sen. EJ Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican.
Lanard argued that the price of wind -- free -- is far more stable than fossil fuels which are being depleted. Overtime, he argued, wind would help stabilize energy prices if included in the state's portfolio.
And there are other benefits, he said. Climate change, rising sea levels and energy independence can all be addressed by developing a wind energy industry, he said. Europe and China, he said, are looking to wind for those reason.