But as the legislature returns this week to Annapolis for the start to the 2012 session, there is little evidence that O’Malley’s ambition for offshore wind has grown easier for lawmakers to swallow.
Rather, political currents that seemed poised to help propel the industry just a year ago have since turned against it. The high-profile collapse of Solyndra, the federally backed California solar company, and the paralyzing summer showdown over mounting federal debt have led Congress to cut off funding for loan guarantees and tax credits considered critical to the economics of the nascent offshore wind market.
“The situation has gotten worse — not better — for offshore wind since the last time it was up for debate,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis, (D-Prince George’s), chairman of one of two key committees that would have to back O’Malley’s plan.
The result is a funding challenge that is even more vexing than the one O’Malley and offshore wind proponents faced a year ago and that underscores a problem common to many of the governor’s most ambitious plans for the coming 90-day session.
O’Malley wants ratepayers to help cover the cost of making offshore wind energy competitive. He wants more gas tax revenue to increase road, bridge and transit construction. He wants environmental fees to bring in more money to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. And he wants to accelerate state borrowing, despite shrinking property tax revenue to pay for it, to help spur improvements to public infrastructure.
After years of state budget cuts, each investment is important to Maryland’s future, O’Malley says. But each would also hit state residents squarely in the pocketbook.
At the outset of a contentious election year, and with votes on legalizing same -sex marriage and other social issues sure to distract from economic ones, those conditions have made it impossible to predict what combination of higher taxes and fees — if any — will be palatable to Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature.
“I definitely could not sign on to support offshore wind so long as ratepayers need to pay more,” said Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County).
Typically stalwart in support of O’Malley’s causes, Kelley is among a large number of Democrats who have openly questioned the logic of moving forward with offshore wind while so many in the state are struggling to make ends meet.
“I just can’t see why the citizens of Maryland should make a long-term commitment,” Kelley said.