ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a measure that would allow the creation of a wind farm off Ocean City, indicating its probable passage by shooting down a number of hostile amendments.
The bill -- a legislative priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley -- could see a final vote as early as Friday.
"It's one of the key environmental issues of our time, renewable energies. I personally favor nuclear power, but that's not going to happen any time soon," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert counties.
"Wind is the next-best source at this time. We've got the ocean on our border and we need to take advantage of it."
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The bill would require that a certain percentage of electricity sold in Maryland come from wind starting in 2017. It would raise electricity rates for consumers, due to the high cost of producing wind power.
Rate increases would be capped at $1.50 per month for residential users and 1.5 percent of businesses' electrical bills.
The Democratic majority shot down a number of amendments from Republicans who were worried about the bill's impact on businesses and whether an offshore wind project would actually benefit Maryland.
The measure would require that a wind farm with about 80 turbines be built in the Atlantic Ocean, off the shore of Ocean City, but it doesn't specify where the power would be routed. Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick and Carroll counties, offered a failed amendment that would require the power substation to be built on Maryland soil.
"I can see one site being in Delaware. Then we'd have the transformer in Delaware, and the jobs and construction in Delaware, and we have [Maryland] ratepayers subsidizing that," he argued.
Other failed amendments would have further capped what businesses paid for wind power and would have sold bonds to raise money in case Maryland wasn't able to produce enough wind power to meet the goals the bill required.
"It's not totally riskless," said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore. "Does it really make any sense that the citizens of Maryland are going to be supplementing this project and we're going to be totally held harmless if this thing doesn't produce? I think not."
The measure passed the House on Feb. 20. If it is approved by the Senate, the House would have to OK any changes before it goes to O'Malley's desk.