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O’Malley to take case for wind energy to Senate; Miller expected at rally

ANNAPOLIS — A suddenly supportive Senate committee will hear Gov. Martin O’Malley reiterate his support on Wednesday for building energy-producing wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City.

After sending his energy adviser, Abigail Hopper, to brief the House Economic Matters Committee last week, O’Malley is now expected to testify before members of the Senate Finance Committee. The divided panel has twice killed versions of O’Malley’s offshore wind legislation.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, changed the committee’s membership last month, apparently securing the sixth and final vote needed to spring the bill into the full Senate.

The legislation, which guarantees developers a market for offshore wind energy while capping the cost to ratepayers, was approved by the House last year. Now the bill appears poised for passage in the Senate, where 24 lawmakers have signed on as cosponsors, the same number of votes needed for a simple majority in the 47-member chamber.

Emphasizing the Senate’s support, Miller is expected to speak at a rally promoting passage of the offshore wind bill Wednesday afternoon. Miller, the Senate’s presiding officer since 1987, rarely speaks at such rallies.

The bill is O’Malley’s only major environmental initiative that has not been approved by the General Assembly in his six-plus years as governor. Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O’Malley, said it was no surprise the complex legislation took so long to gain the support of a majority of the legislature.

“The governor has said over and over again that some things need a couple of tries,” Guillory said.

The bill is unlikely to receive much Republican support, if any. Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, has derided the building of a field of offshore wind turbines as “the dumbest idea ever,” in part because of the high cost of wind energy in comparison with that from other sources. Pipkin and many other Republicans have centered their energy policy on the natural gas that could be extracted in Western Maryland through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

O’Malley has earmarked $1.5 million in his fiscal year 2014 budget to study the safety and economic impact of the controversial drilling practice. A state commission formed by the governor has been studying fracking since 2011.