Requiring electric utilities to rely more on wind power, as Gov. Martin O'Malley is pushing, will not cost Maryland ratepayers anything for the next five years, and will cost them at most an extra $2 on their monthly electric bills, state lawmakers said at a rally in Annapolis Wednesday.
The rate increase would not kick in until construction begins on offshore wind turbines, which is expected no sooner than 2017, if O'Malley's Offshore Wind Energy Act passes.
The bill is not O'Malley's first attempt at moving Maryland toward wind-based power. A bill he promoted last year died following criticism about a potential $9 monthly rate increase. This year's version, which has 13 sponsors in the House and 13 in the Senate, caps the potential increase to ratepayers at $2 a month.
Over time, ratepayers will see their electric bills decrease, said Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery County, a sponsor.
"Once you become committed, nature keeps giving you the resource for free," O'Malley said, pointing to the rising costs of fossil fuels by comparison.
The issue is at the top of O'Malley's agenda this year, behind the same-sex marriage bill on the Senate floor this week, and has been framed as a way to meet the legislature's commitment to generating 20 percent of its electricity using renewable resources by 2022.
But Tom Firey, a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute who has studied Maryland's energy resources, expressed doubts about the lawmakers' claims.
Because offshore wind turbines are located in saltwater, they depreciate at a faster rate than most electricity sources, making offshore wind power one of the most expensive electricity sources to build and maintain, he said.
Firey said he is skeptical that an additional $2 a month will cover the costs.
"My concern is to make that claim hold true, other forms of subsidy would have to be in place," he said.