On Tuesday, the Maryland Senate Finance Committee –- where wind power legislation hit the doldrums the last two years –- voted 7-4 in favor of Governor Martin O’Malley’s bill that would help subsidize 40 huge wind turbines east of Ocean City.
Last Friday, the House of Delegates voted 86 to 48 in favor of the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013.
The final hurdle will be an upcoming vote by the full state senate.
The legislation would require electric utilities to buy a portion of their power from the proposed offshore wind farm, which would generate enough pollution-free electricity to power about a third of the homes on the Eastern Shore.
The bill would contribute to the fight against climate change. More wind power would reduce the amount electricity purchased from coal-fired power plants, which today produce half of the electricity for Maryland -– and also release a huge amount of pollution, including microscopic soot particles that trigger and asthma and heart attacks; mercury, which contaminates fish and can damage the brains of developing infants; and nitrogen oxide air pollution, which feeds algal blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay.
Air pollution is responsible for about a third of the nitrogen in the Bay. So reducing air pollution by shifting some generation to wind power will help the Bay states meet EPA pollution limits for the Chesapeake and the related state plans for cleaning up the Bay, called the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint.
The proposed bill’s mandate that utilities buy power from offshore wind would also mean an electricity rate increase of up to $1.50 per month for an average household, and 1.5 percent more for commercial customers (although not many industries and farms, which have some exemptions). The rate increase will come because wind power is more expensive (in the short term) than energy from fossil fuels, especially natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, which is increasingly cheap but may have some potential impacts to drinking water, streams, and air quality.
To learn more about the bill, read this analysis from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation.