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Offshore Wind Bill Advances In Maryland Senate

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- A measure to help develop offshore wind in Maryland advanced in the state Senate on Thursday, edging a priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley's closer to passage after stalling in the last two years.

The bill received preliminary approval after the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected several amendments offered by Republicans.

Critics oppose a provision that would make residents pay as much as $1.50 a month on their electric bills, once energy is generated by offshore wind. Businesses could see increases of up to 1.5 percent on their bills.

Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, tried to change the bill to protect small businesses from rate increases.

"This is going to require businesses to pay an awful lot more on their electricity," said Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, speaking in support of the amendment.

But Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, said exempting certain groups would hurt the feasibility of developing offshore wind.

"Every time you make an exception, you start to take the financial viability out of the project because the developer is locked in," Middleton said, before the Senate rejected the amendment.

Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett, noted that Garrett County has two wind farms that never asked ratepayers to subsidize them.

"Now all of the sudden, we're going to ask all the ratepayers in the state to subsidize this one offshore," Edwards said, while arguing for a change that would exempt ratepayers in Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties from paying.

But the amendment was rejected.

The Senate is scheduled to continue debating the bill on Friday. However, it's unclear whether a vote will come before next week. The House of Delegates already has passed the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee was the stumbling block for the bill last year. This year, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller moved a member of the panel to secure the vote needed to get the bill to the Senate floor.

"We've got the ocean on our border and we need to take advantage of it," Miller said Thursday.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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