By ELLEN STODOLA
ANNAPOLIS (March 29, 2012)—Maryland got one step closer to advancing offshore wind in the state when the House of Delegates Thursday preliminarily approved a modified version of Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to build turbines off the coast of Ocean City.
The bill presented on the House floor features several amendments from the House Economic Matters Committee, including one to cap increases to residents' monthly utility bills at $1.50-a-month, down from the $2-a-month in the earlier bill.
Since last year, one of the most contested points of the wind bill has been increases to residents' monthly utility bills.
In addition, the revised bill stipulates the cost will not exceed 1.5 percent of the total annual electric bill of nonresidential customers, rather than the original 2.5 percent.
However, lowering utility increases for residential and nonresidential ratepayers could also affect the size of potential wind farms, significantly lowering the number of turbines from the originally estimated 60.
"The exact number cannot be determined," said Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George's.
But Davis said the current bill presents a more limited scope than originally planned.
Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Talbot, had two approved floor amendments to the bill, which specifically address the farming community.
The amendments make it clear those in the agricultural business tend to have higher electricity usage and should be treated similarly to industrial customers.
The amendments would help to cap the cost to farmers.
Delegate David Rudolph, D-Cecil, introduced the other approved floor amendment, which clarifies studies of the offshore wind industry will not be paid for by ratepayers.
Davis said he believes the bill will get a final vote Friday.
"There are always going to be some concerns with new technology," Davis said.
Though offshore wind still needs to be addressed in the Senate, Davis said they haven't looked that far ahead yet since there is still one more step to get the legislation passed in the House.
Davis said he is hopeful it will pass in the House of Delegates.
"We focused on what was acceptable to Economic Matters and the full House," Davis said.
Even with the acceptance of her amendments specifically addressing the farming community, Haddaway-Riccio still wasn't completely supportive of the bill.
We have no idea what energy prices and inflation are going to be, she said.
"That makes it that much more of a gamble for ratepayers," Haddaway-Riccio said.