O'Malley to seek bill boosting offshore wind power

Legislation would require utilities to pledge electricity purchases from turbines

January 12, 2011|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

Hoping to spur development of wind energy projects off Maryland's coast, Gov. Martin O'Malley is planning to introduce legislation that would require power companies in the state to buy electricity from turbines placed in the Atlantic Ocean, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Details of the governor's bill are being worked out, spokesman Shaun Adamec said, but the O'Malley administration expects to propose legislation that would require utilities to sign contracts to buy significant amounts of power from offshore wind projects. The aim, he said, is "to essentially make the projects more attractive to investors and to give the industry the shot in the arm it needs."

Word of the governor's support heartened environmental activists, for whom boosting offshore wind is one of the top legislative priorities this year.

"I think the political, economic and environmental stars are aligning in 2011 to pass a bill," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. At least two other states — Delaware and New Jersey — have provided similar incentives for offshore wind development, Tidwell said.

The legislation also is drawing support from labor leaders, who estimate that a large-scale wind project could support up to 4,000 temporary jobs and 800 permanent jobs.

State law requires utilities to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2022, and the O'Malley administration has pushed for industrial-scale wind farms off the Maryland coast. The federal government could begin leasing sites early next year.

While turbines offshore would be expected to generate more power than those on land, they're also likely to be much more expensive to build. Getting financing for such projects has been a hurdle, proponents say, so assuring markets for some of the power generated by the turbines should help lure investors.

Some say that the higher cost of getting electricity from offshore wind farms is likely to raise utility bills, at least in the short term.

It is unclear whether power companies or the business community would object to the legislation. A lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce said the group has taken no position.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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