"What you could end up having in the bill is our ratepayers picking up the tab for $2 billion to $4 billion in cost with no benefit back," he said. "That is what needs to be looked at with the extra time."
Environmentalists countered that lawmakers had devoted ample time to study the bill, but were simply gun shy about any complicated energy legislation after seeing electricity rates skyrocket after their approval in 1999 of energy deregulation.
"They have the information they need," said Brad Heavner, state director of Environment Maryland. "They just decided not to make a decision."
Heavner said he was particularly disappointed that lawmakers balked at supporting offshore wind while giving far less scrutiny to a bill environmentalists oppose that would boost incentives for facilities that produce electricity by burning trash. The bill, which has unanimously passed the Senate, gained preliminary approval Thursday in the House.
Mike Tidwell, head of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, warned that by delaying action, Maryland may have lost an economic development edge to Delaware or any other Atlantic state moving ahead with offshore wind. Those states may be more likely to attract turbine manufacturing plants and related businesses, he said.
Woolf said he didn't anticipate the holdup would scare away any of the eight firms that have expressed interest in securing federal leases for putting turbines up on the outer continental shelf off Ocean City. The Interior Department has indicated that it may be in a position to offer leases by the end of this year.
But Woolf said once leases are awarded, developers would have to invest significant sums in environmental impact and other studies. At that time, he said, developers might balk at moving forward without guaranteed buyers for their electricity. He said it's still possible the Navy or other federal or state government agencies could sign long-term power purchasing agreements. But those likely could not pledge to buy enough electricity to support a large utility-scale wind energy project, he said.
The tabling of the offshore wind bill is just the latest setback for O'Malley's legislative priorities in this 90-day session. His bid to limit new development on septic systems was tabled earlier by a House committee, and a proposal to create a $100 million investment pool to help startup companies is still in committee.