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House Of Delegates Passes Offshore Wind Power Bill
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March 30, 2012
The House of Delegates passed by a wide margin a bill to boost offshore wind power today and sent it on to the Senate. WYPR’s Joel McCord reports.
The final vote came after about an hour of acrimonious and sometimes personal debate, as in this exchange between Mike McDermott, a Worcester County Republican, and Dereck Davis, chair of the House Economic Matters Committee.
“Right now I’ve got a chairman that’s got his head buried in a desk because I don’t think he believes in it either.”
“The reason my head was buried in my desk because I can’t believe the amount of stuff I’m hearing that people are just throwing out there with no factual basis. We’re just making stuff up as we go along.”
For example, Davis said, some have argued that utility bills will go up in six months.
“This is a five year permitting process. Before the first wind turbine is built it’s going to take five years and we don’t pay for a thing until after energy is being produced.”
Tony O’Donnell, the House Republican leader, charged that the bill is aimed at furthering Governor Martin O’Malley’s political ambitions at the expense of Maryland rate payers.
“We should not provide a political op, a photo op for somebody who wants to climb a national political ladder and we shouldn’t kick our citizens for political reasons. And that’s what we’re doing in the context of every other tax and fee increase that’s going down this session.”
O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said in an e-mail the bill is “all about cleaner energy, a cleaner environment, a more sustainable future and a better future for our kids.”
Michael Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican, wondered why the governor is trying to move quickly on offshore wind while taking time to study hydraulic fracturing in Western Maryland. Then he answered his own question.
“Cronyism. Let’s call it what it is. There are people who are going to benefit from this because we move forward and it helps some people in this state financially.”
It was a thinly veiled reference to Michael Enright, Governor O’Malley’s former chief of staff who left in 2010 to become managing director of Beowulf, an energy firm behind a joint venture that was competing for federal leasing rights to develop an offshore wind project.
Chairman Davis moved to squelch that.
“Beowulf was in…Or they have severed their agreement with Apex Wind. They’re not even pursuing offshore wind anymore. They’re completely out of this game. Again, we did not update our talking points.”
Under Maryland’s renewable energy standards, utilities are required to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2022. The bill passed today requires that two and a half percent of that energy come from offshore wind, provided the projects meet the standards of an elaborate evaluation process. Part of that process is to prove that monthly utility bills would not increase by more than a dollar fifty.
In a news conference before the vote, Delegate Tom Hucker, a Prince Georges Democrat, said lawmakers never included rate protection when they approved nuclear or coal fired power plants.
“This is in fact the first time the legislature has weighed in and established rate payer protections to make sure rate payers get a great deal from this new energy source.”
The wind bill goes to the Senate, where it’s chances are unclear. Advocates say they are cautiously optimistic.
I’m Joel McCord, reporting in Annapolis for 88.1, WYPR.
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