A vessel sails toward a wind farm off the coast of southeastern Britain in July 2006. (David Bebber/Associated Press)

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to subsidize construction of giant windmills in the Atlantic Ocean advanced largely along party lines in the House of Delegates on Wednesday, putting the bill one step away from the Senate, where it died last year.

In contrast to last year, however, the bill’s chances remain strong in the Senate. There, President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr (D-Calvert) recently attended a rally in support of the measure, and has removed from a key committee one of three Democrats who held up the governor’s legislation last year.

A majority of senators have for the first time pledged support for the measure and Miller said he wants a final up-or-down vote held on the bill, which died in each of the legislature’s two previous sessions.

O’Malley’s (D) bill would add a surcharge of $1.50 a month onto the average residential electricity bill to subsidize the higher cost of offshore wind power. O’Malley says the 40 or so turbines that would be built off the coast of Ocean City would create 850 construction jobs, and position Maryland as a leader in the offshore wind energy market.

Offshore wind farms have yet to be built in the United States, and major federal tax incentives would still be required to make any project viable, industry analysts say. The scope of O’Malley’s proposed project has also been cut in half over the last two years to assuage lawmakers’ concerns about costs passed on to ratepayers.

Environmentalists hailed the bill’s apparent momentum.

“Gov. O’Malley and the Maryland House of Delegates are doing the right thing for our kids, our air, our climate, and our economy,” said Tommy Landers, director of Environment Maryland. “The offshore wind industry is coming to our region, and this bill will put Maryland on the cutting edge of states ready to embrace and reap all of its benefits.”

In advancing the measure, House Democrats rebuffed eight attempts by Republicans to amend the bill and tighten requirements limiting costs to the state and ratepayers. The bill’s proponents argued the measures were redundant with federal protections, or altogether unneeded.