A recent retreat by Congress in helping to fund such clean-energy projects has raised doubts about whether developers could secure financing for an offshore wind farm even with the aid O’Malley’s plan could offer.
But relative to other legislative battles that O’Malley faces over same-sex marriage and an array of proposed tax increases, the governor is beginning his renewed fight for offshore wind ahead of those others. Powerful Democrats say they are more likely to support the governor’s plan after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with his staff. And the company of O’Malley’s former chief of staff says it is no longer involved in a potentially lucrative venture to develop the state’s offshore wind – a factor several Democrats cited last year as compromising the integrity of the governor’s first proposal.
Still, with O’Malley also seeking several tax increases, including one on incomes of six-figure earners, and probably another on the state’s gas tax, it remains to be seen whether the General Assembly may view adding long-term costs to residents’ electric bills as too much all at once.
To head off such concerns, O’Malley’s new plan seeks to guarantee that a subsidy would increase residents’ rates no more than $2 per month and 2.5 percent for the state’s largest commercial and industrial businesses, according to administration officials with extensive knowledge of the governor’s bill.
The plan would also require state regulators to hire an independent analyst to assess whether the costs to ratepayers — which would probably be added to monthly bills beginning in 2017 and continue for 20 years — would be outweighed by what the administration calculates are the potential benefits: 1,800 new construction jobs, increased electricity production and reduced air pollution.
“This whole issue of additional ratepayer costs, it’s just hard for the committee to approve,” said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, (D-Charles), who chairs the Finance Committee, where the governor’s offshore wind bill died last year. He said he has been working with O’Malley’s office to ensure that the version of the bill introduced Monday is one that his committee could support.
“With a mandate for net positive economic development benefit, where you have jobs and manufacturing and those types of things, and an independent analysis . . . I think we’ll get there,” Middleton said.
To make the bill more palatable to Middleton and his counterpart in the House, Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George's), O’Malley’s office also did away with a mandate in last year’s version that required utilities to buy wind power at a set price high above current market rates.