BERLIN – State Sen. Jim Mathias’ appointment to the Senate Finance Committee didn’t take long to begin paying area dividends as the committee prepares to consider a bill that would make the area off the Ocean City coast the lynchpin of the state’s move toward energy independence.
Mathias is a co-sponsor of the bill that would, if passed, pave the way to erect wind turbines off the coast and require the power provided by it be purchased and used by companies providing electric power to Maryland.
As it stands now, one of the reasons for the continuing rise in the cost of energy is the transmission fees and backups that occur as power created in the mid-west makes its way into the state. Mathias said that by beginning to generate power locally the benefits will likely outweigh the cost, although he was clear that he’s not yet heard all the industry evidence on the matter.
The preliminary estimate for the project’s cost to consumers is an electric bill increase of $1.50-$1.70 per month. Mathias said the industry estimates might be higher but that, once the investment is made, the payback will be relatively quick and likely result in significantly reduced, or at least stabilized, electric costs.
“There’s a flatline with the wind as an ingredient in producing power,” he said. “Compared with energy costs that are tied to foreign imports and coal plants the costs are much more predictable.”
Mathias said that an important part of that would be the “circuit breaker” inserted into the law that puts the Public Service Commission in a position to evaluate all of the power prices and applications. So passage of the law will give neither the wind nor the traditional power companies’ carte blanche with public money. The PSC will be able to make sure that the wind company’s proposals are in line with national costs and expected costs.
Mathias said this is a critical part in making sure that the investment in wind power pays off in rate predictability and reduced costs.
The jobs likely to be created both by the construction process and the continued maintenance of the turbine field will benefit both the county and the region, which was another reason Mathias said he wanted to be a sponsor of the bill. Moreover, his hope is that if the landings for the operation can be established on Maryland’s shores both the area and the county will have a say in and a benefit from any required easements.
“I wanted to make sure the county could participate in the process,” he said. “This is a premier area for wind power and it should be a beneficiary of that.”
Looking beyond both the state and federal funding opportunities, Google has evinced interest in helping to establish a reliable power source along the East Coast to help ensure both cost and performance predictability.
The finance committee will continue to review the bill and hold hearings but Mathias said he has every expectation that it will make it out of committee and onto the floor for debate and, if acceptable, the governors desk.