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Wind win in assembly almost official

ANNAPOLIS — Only one procedural step remains between legislation that would subsidize the development of a Maryland offshore wind energy industry and the desk of its creator, Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The Senate on Friday voted 30-15 to approve O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill, all but ending debate on an issue that has divided the General Assembly since 2011.

Only a final vote by the House of Delegates, accepting friendly amendments to House Bill 226 tacked on by the Senate Finance Committee, remains before O’Malley can sign the bill into law.

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who led support of the bill in the Senate, said there would be no problems upon the bill’s return to the House.

“I expect they will just send the bill back with concurrence,” Middleton said Friday. “They will have no problems with this on the House side.”

The final House vote will end a three-year debate over the wisdom of helping developers build 40 wind turbines capable of producing 200 megawatts of electricity, 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The project — still years away and far from a sure thing, even with this legislation — would cause 1.5 percent increases in businesses’ electricity bills. The average residential ratepayer would see a monthly bill increase by about $1.50.

The House passed similar legislation last year, but the Senate Finance Committee did not have the votes needed to bring the bill before the full Senate. In an effort to spring the bill, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, shuffled the lineup of the committee in January.

Last week, the panel voted 7-4 to move the bill to the full Senate, where 24 members of the chamber were co-sponsors of the legislation. But that didn’t stop two days of fierce debate over the bill, during which Republican lawmakers decried the potential electricity bill increases and a component of the legislation that would encourage prospective developers to use union labor by making it part of the bid criteria.

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, said the legislation amounted to corporate welfare — using the power of the state government to aid a tiny group of potential investors, while leaving Maryland ratepayers on the hook for the production of wind energy, the most expensive form of renewable energy.

“This is the dumbest idea ever,” Pipkin said.

Final approval could come as soon as next week.