THE MARYLAND HOUSE’S Economic Matters Committee approved on Monday Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to finance wind turbines off the Atlantic Coast — on the condition that the maximum premium Maryland consumers would pay for that renewable electricity be lowered. But bad policy on a smaller scale is still bad policy.
Maryland already has a law that requires 20 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2022. Though not the ideal anti-carbon policy, it has the advantage of treating all renewables equally, allowing electricity suppliers to choose which are the most cost-effective to meet the state’s mandate. The governor’s — and, now, the House committee’s — plan would undermine that advantage, requiring that electricity suppliers satisfy a slice of the state’s renewables mandate with offshore wind power generated by specified turbines off the Delmarva Peninsula.
Proponents argue that Maryland has exceptional offshore wind resources, and that the plan would limit subsidies to no more than $1.50 per month per household, or 1.5 percent of electric bills for commercial ratepayers. But even assuming the state’s estimates of long-term costs would be accurate — a huge assumption — neither of those points argue for making Maryland a captive market for offshore wind power derived from projects hand-picked in Annapolis. Policymakers who tout potential in-state jobs also shouldn’t find attractive the prospect of coddling local industries to the possible disadvantage of Maryland consumers.
Environmentalists argue that the state’s renewables mandate counts certain sources of electricity as renewable that it should not. The response, then, should be to discuss whether and how the mandate should be fixed, not to undermine the competition among renewables that it encourages — the policy’s most attractive feature. Also on the table should be strengthening the mandate by increasing the percentage of cleaner electricity required but allowing nuclear and natural gas to count, the latter at a lower rate to account for the fact that it produces carbon, but at a lower rate than coal or oil.
Though it passed a House committee, the offshore wind proposal is stalled in the state Senate. It should remain that way.