By KERRY DAVIS
ANNAPOLIS (March 23, 2011) Gov. Martin O'Malley rallied about 40 supporters of offshore wind energy on Wednesday, urging them to join him in one last chant that they hope will reach the ears of key committee legislators in Annapolis - "Pass the Bill!"
Environmentalists, steelworkers, lobbyists and others stood on the City Dock to make their final plea for passage of the offshore wind energy bill. The bill would contractually obligate utility companies to purchase some energy from offshore wind production companies for 25 years, once wind turbines are built. The turbines would be located about 12 miles offshore of Ocean City.
But the bill has been held up in Senate and House committees because of concerns over potential costs to the state and consumers.
"As drafted, it would be very tough to get that bill passed, but hopefully we can bring stakeholders together, work on amendments and so forth and see what we can do," said Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George's.
Davis chairs the House Economic Matters Committee and hopes to schedule a public utilities subcommittee meeting for the bill next week. That leaves less than two weeks before the end of the legislative session to get the bill through the House and Senate.
O'Malley addressed the cost to consumers concern by announcing an amendment that would cap rate increases at $2 per month. Another amendment would require wind energy developers to pass along savings from federal tax incentives to ratepayers, according to an O'Malley press release.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, one of the bill's sponsors, believes the next 72 hours will be critical to determining whether it will pass this year or be deferred and studied this summer instead.
"I'm optimistic but I think it could go either way," said Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat.
But some opponents believe the bill is too cumbersome to pass this session.
"I'm surprised by how expensive it is and how little it actually does to help the environment," said Delegate Herbert McMillian, R-Anne Arundel.
Even supporters are cautious.
"I think there are a whole lot of obstacles to the passage of it," said Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, and chair of the Senate Finance Committee. "The lobbyists are really lining up, there's a lot of money being spent in Annapolis because they have some real concerns and every time you put a rate increase on the rate payers, then the rate payers get angry."
If the wind energy bill isn't passed, environmentalists hope that it, like others on O'Malley's green agenda, will return next year.
"There's a couple different ways to look at a big bill like this because they often do take multiple years," said Kim Coble, executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "In some ways that's common practice and that could be what's happened."