A powerful Senate committee chairman who scuttled Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill to promote development of an offshore wind energy industry last year, said Thursday that he's "100 percent" in favor of this year's version of the administration bill.
Sen. Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton, who heads the Finance Committee, said the legislation has been improved significantly since last year and now involves much less risk to ratepayers.
Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, gave a favorable appraisal of the bill -- a centerpiece of O'Malley's environmental agenda -- two days after the governor appeared before his panel to testify on its behalf.
The governor faced hostile questioning from committee Republicans but apparently satisfied the chairman.
"I support it now more than ever," Middleton said. "The bill's tightly drawn."
Middleton said the bill, which attempts to create a framework that would lure private companies to install wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City and provide power to Maryland's electrical grid, now includes safeguards the previous bill did not.
Last year's bill put too much of the risk on Maryland ratepayers, he said. "That's gone this year,' Middleton said.
The senator would not predict whether the bill would emerge from his committee this year, but he said he's working closely with the House of Delegates and Governor's Office on moving it forward.
Middleton said it's unlikely that any turbine complex will be up and running for many years, but he said having a regulatory framework could help development of the industry and attract the interest of turbine manufacturers.
"It's important that Maryland gets on the map as a state,' he said.