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Wind bill gains House approval

ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates has passed legislation that would force utility companies to buy energy produced by wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City.

House Bill 226, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, was approved Friday 86-48, after a few objections from Republican members of the House. The bill would subsidize the development of an offshore field of wind turbines at least 10 miles from the coast by raising the monthly electricity bills of Maryland ratepayers.

“It is the most expensive green energy going, but we’re going to go ahead and do this and say damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” said Del. Michael A. McDermott, R-Lower Shore. Despite universal GOP opposition, the legislation’s fate was never in doubt in the House, which passed a substantially similar plan last year.

Passage sets up action by the Senate, which has for the past two years panned O’Malley’s proposal because of concerns about the cost of offshore wind energy. The governor’s bill would cap increases in monthly electricity bills at 1.5 percent for businesses and $1.50 monthly per household.

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said his panel could vote on a Senate version of O’Malley’s bill next week. That legislation, Senate Bill 275, will be amended to match the House bill, he said.

S.B. 275 appears destined for passage in the full Senate, where 24 members of the chamber are co-sponsors — the same number of votes needed to pass most bills in the 47-member chamber.

The Senate Finance Committee took no action last year on similar legislation. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, changed the panel’s roster last month to ensure the legislation would move to the full Senate.

In a statement, Chesapeake Climate Action Network Director Mike Tidwell lauded the environmental and economic benefits of developing an offshore wind energy program in Maryland.

“Maryland can lead the new job-creating and climate change-fighting offshore wind industry,” Tidwell said. “It’s now the Senate’s turn to send this bill to Gov. O’Malley’s desk for his signature.”