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Md. House Advances Offshore Wind Bill

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Gov. Martin O'Malley's mission to make Maryland a leader in offshore wind development took a positive step Wednesday when the House of Delegates approved a bill on the energy source.

The bill would create the infrastructure for an offshore wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean. There are currently no offshore wind farms in the U.S., although several are in development in states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware.

The bill, which is expected to pass this year after two failed attempts, could receive final approval in the House by the end of the week.

The proposal, which would take years to develop, would also potentially increase monthly electricity bills for ratepayers by up to $1.50 a month. Businesses could see increases of up to 1.5 percent. However, ratepayers would not begin paying more until electricity is produced, which likely wouldn't be until 2017 at the earliest. The bill also requires utilities to buy offshore renewable energy credits.

If passed, about 40 turbines would be built off the coast of Ocean City.

"We have goals for 2020 to have 20 percent of our energy coming from renewable sources," said Delegate Dereck Davis, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee. "Offshore wind represents the best opportunity to be able to meet those goals with in-state resources."

The measure sidestepped eight amendments proposed by House Republicans, aiming to restrict the project's cost on the state and taxpayers.

Republican Delegate Patrick McDonough of Baltimore and Harford counties noted that the offshore wind bill, if successful, would fail to meet the state's energy needs.

Environmentalists applauded the legislation's advancement.

"Our legislators are listening, and they know that Marylanders want clean energy," said Christine Hill, conservation and policy associate for the Sierra Club, Maryland. "By transitioning from dirty, outdated fossil fuels like coal towards clean energy sources like offshore wind, Maryland families will benefit with more local jobs, savings of nearly $2 billion in health-related costs over 20 years, and a safer climate for our childrens' futures."

The measure is expected to create 850 new construction and manufacturing jobs. It also applies Maryland's minority business enterprise requirements to all offshore wind projects.

The House passed a similar offshore wind bill set in place last year by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, but the measure stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.

This year, O'Malley is expecting a different outcome.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, moved a member of the Senate Finance Committee to another panel in order to secure the vote needed to get the measure to the full Senate for debate.

Miller, a Democrat, expects the measure to pass the Senate.

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

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