By ELLEN STODOLA
ANNAPOLIS (February 14, 2012)—Despite reassurances from Gov. Martin O'Malley that additional consumer fees would be capped at $2 a month under his wind farm proposal, a number of senators said Tuesday they are still concerned that tapping into offshore wind would cost too much.
O'Malley told members of the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday that wind energy is essential for Maryland's future, and that ratepayers wouldn't even see any increases in their utility bills for years to come.
The long-term liabilities for utility companies and the potential fee increases for ratepayers were two key reasons that similar wind farm legislation was unsuccessful last year.
This year's legislation offers adjustments that would cap the potential increase on Maryland residents' utility bills at $2 a month. It also gives companies buying offshore wind power the opportunity to earn renewable energy credits.
"Ratepayers would not be charged for wind energy generation until the turbines start spinning," O'Malley said, in response to concern from Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil.
Pipkin has been a vocal opponent of offshore wind because he believes the money spent to bring the industry to Maryland would be better spent elsewhere. He also disputes the governor's cost estimates.
"The $2-a-month cap, it's nowhere near the cost of what the offshore wind is going to cost," Pipkin said.
Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, said he also has concerns about whether the $2-a-month cap is realistic.
"My concern is the fact that when you piggyback all the costs together, it does get to be more than $2 a month," Kittleman said.
O'Malley said it would probably be another five to six years before ratepayers even see a change in their utility bills.
He said the goal of reaching 20 percent of energy generated being from renewable sources by 2022, under the Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, is a big factor in the desire to explore offshore wind.
Maryland needs to take steps to move forward because wind is one of Maryland's most abundant sources of energy, he said.
O'Malley said offshore wind development is obviously a long-term project that won't happen overnight. Many things still need to happen for it to work out, but he said if people believe that climate change is real and that the price of fossil fuels is going to go up in the next 30 years, then wind is a good bet.
Though O'Malley said there were still things to be worked out, he said that wind power is a way for Maryland to "realize a cleaner, greener energy future."
"I don't have a crystal ball that can see how all of this comes together," O'Malley said. "I know that we are not going to hit our renewable portfolio standard, which this General Assembly supported and voted for, unless we take advantage of the most abundant natural resource with the technology available to us today on offshore wind."