By ELLEN STODOLA
ANNAPOLIS (February 23, 2012) - Legislators questioned Gov. Martin O'Malley about whether the jobs created from his offshore wind legislation will actually go to Marylanders during a House Economic Matters Committee hearing Thursday.
Delegates also worried the offshore wind bill will raise costs for businesses in the industrial and commercial sectors.
Though the committee echoed concerns expressed last week in the Senate Finance Committee over whether the $2-a-month cap on utility bills for residents is a realistic estimation, members focused more on O'Malley and his panel's testimony that wind farms would be positive for job creation and that the concerns of industrial and commercial companies would be taken into account.
O'Malley said the legislation would lead to "a more secure and sustainable energy future for our state and our planet and also a better future for Maryland families."
Last year, O'Malley pushed similar legislation, which failed because of the increased utility fees it would require from ratepayers and the long-term leases it would require from energy companies.
This year's bill addresses these concerns by capping the monthly utility fees at $2-a-month for ratepayers and adding opportunities to earn renewable energy credits for companies buying offshore wind power.
O'Malley said the overarching goal of investing in offshore wind is job creation for the state.
He estimated 1,300 jobs will be created in the five-year construction period for the turbines, with 250 permanent jobs coming directly from the industry and 230 additional jobs created indirectly.
Delegate Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George's, had specific questions about the diversity and specifics of the jobs to be created.
"Many of our residents are minorities," Braveboy said.
Braveboy was particularly concerned about whether the jobs would be Maryland jobs and if there would be opportunities for minority-owned businesses.
"One of the things that the developers are obligated to provide is information about job creation here in Maryland: the price of jobs, the salary of the job, as well as the duration of those jobs," said Abby Hopper, O'Malley's energy adviser, explaining that developers will have to provide information on whether their jobs will be created specifically for Marylanders.
Legislators are also carefully weighing the concerns of industrial, commercial and manufacturing companies, particularly increased costs because they use much more electricity than the average resident.
"In my district, we probably have one of the largest manufacturing factories in the state," said Delegate Joseph Minnick, D-Baltimore County, referring to RG Steel in Sparrows Point.
Minnick said he's concerned about a rise in cost the company would see because it already pays high monthly electric bills.
However, Hopper said the legislation is protective of the unique role that industrial and manufacturing companies play in Maryland by putting a cap on the number of kilowatt hours of electricity that are subject to fees.
In addition, Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration, said companies like RG Steel could be in a "unique position to benefit" when it comes to looking for a provider for steel for the turbines.
O'Malley is interested in establishing Maryland in the offshore wind industry on the manufacturing side, as well as the energy side.
"By reducing the amount of energy we import, we would also have the opportunity to become a leader in manufacturing the various components that go into these turbines and making them spin," O'Malley said.
He said Maryland has the advanced manufacturing workforce and infrastructure to establish the state as a regional hub for wind energy.