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Wind bill blows through committee, heads to Senate

ANNAPOLIS — The Senate Finance Committee voted 7-4 to move Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind energy legislation to the full Senate, marking the first time in three tries that the legislation will reach the full body.

House Bill 226 would subsidize the development of an energy-producing field of wind turbines that could be built 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City, no sooner than 2017. Utility companies would be forced to buy some of that energy, and that cost would be passed on to ratepayers.

Developers would have to submit to the Public Service Commission plans that project businesses would see their electricity bill increase by no more than 1.5 percent and households would see their monthly bills increase by no more than $1.50 in present-day dollars. Administration officials and environmentalists have said the cost of offshore wind energy should decrease over time.

The bill would also create a $6 million fund that would be used to help businesses participate in a potential offshore wind energy industry.

In part because of concerns about the increased cost to ratepayers, the Senate panel did not vote on the bill when first introduced by O’Malley in 2011 and didn’t vote last year either, though the House of Delegates passed a companion measure.

To bust up the logjam, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, removed Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, from the committee. Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George’s Democrat who voted for offshore wind this year, took Muse’s place on the panel.

“Your job is done,” Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, R-Carroll and Howard, joked as the bill was passed.

The bill is expected to pass in the Senate, where 24 members are co-sponsoring the legislation — the same number needed to pass most legislation in the 47-member chamber.

Even if the bill is passed and signed by O’Malley, it could be many years before a project is developed. O’Malley has conceded that developers will have trouble building a project capable of powering one-third of the homes on the Eastern Shore while still holding costs to ratepayers under prescribed rates.