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Md. Utility Panel Revises Offshore Wind Costs

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The O’Malley administration put out new estimates of the likely rise in Maryland ratepayers’ electric bills under his offshore wind energy proposal as a Senate committee took a look at the plan Tuesday.

The Public Service Commission estimated that the average homeowner’s electric bill would jump between 92 cents and $3 a month under the governor’s offshore wind proposal. Previously, the PSC had predicted a hike of $1.44 a month. The revised figures were based on comparable wind projects planned in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.

Some lawmakers have raised concerns after legislative analysts predicted that Maryland homeowners could pay as much as $9 more each month under the proposal.

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday examined O’Malley’s plan, which would require utilities to sign long-term contracts to purchase electricity generated by offshore wind turbines.

Eight companies — including one managed by O’Malley’s former chief of staff — are vying to erect wind turbines along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf about 12 miles east of Ocean City.

O’Malley’s bill would give one or a handful of those companies a guaranteed buyer for the electricity they generate.

“We all should be so lucky to find a deal like this,” said Senate Minority Whip E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, said he was concerned that if the state enters a long-term contract for the wind energy too soon, lower energy rates may appear later and homeowners will lose out on those savings.

But waiting would also cause the state to lose out on offshore wind manufacturing jobs that come with the development of a new industry, said Abigail Hopper, a top energy adviser to O’Malley who crafted the offshore wind bill.

“If we wait two years, or three years, the wind is still blowing. But the investment decisions the manufacturers, the supply chain, are making? Those decisions will be made,” she said. “We wait and we lose that economic development opportunity.”

A coalition of environmental and labor groups is pushing for the offshore wind bill, saying it would create new manufacturing jobs in Maryland and help the state meet its renewable energy requirements.

The governor submitted a series of amendments to his own plan which would ensure electricity rates are comparable to those paid from other large-scale offshore wind operations and extend the minimum contract term from 20 years to 25 years.

House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, has said his panel of lawmakers has yet to begin working on the bill, but that there is plenty of time to approve something before the session ends in April.

Meanwhile, a separate proposal from the governor would entice offshore wind manufacturing companies to the state with $50 million in aid. That measure is scheduled for a House hearing Wednesday.

AC Wind, a Maryland-based company, has announced plans to open a facility that would make 130-foot long wind turbine blades in Salisbury.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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