In the news

MaryPIRG and CCAN
|
The Diamondback
By
Jim Bach

Holding makeshift windmills crafted from glowsticks and paper, hundreds of students and activists joined hands, forming a circle around the State House in Annapolis last night in a show of support for alternative energy sources.

About 44 activists from this university participated in the rally to support Governor Martin O’Malley’s proposal to create a wind energy farm off the state’s coast. Despite failing to make it out of committee in the last legislative session, HB441: Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012 has passed the House of Delegates with an overwhelming 88-47 vote, and the state Senate is expected to vote on the measure within the next week.

“What we want to do is show momentum, show that overwhelming support and essentially show the senate that its time to get stuff done,” said MaryPIRG campaign coordinator Sam Rivers, who attended yesterday’s rally. “The increase of Maryland students has been incredible comparing last year to this year.”

The offshore wind energy farm will include 200-megawatt wind turbines between 10 to 30 miles off the state’s coast, according to state energy director Abby Hopper. The bill — which is projected to cost the state $1.7 billion over the next 20 years — would provide for cleaner energy use, as well as give the state an economic boost with a new renewable energy market, she said.

“As amended there is a huge minority and small business focus so that it represents a real opportunity for small minority businesses in Maryland to get in on the ground floor of a new industry,” she said.

State lawmakers balked last year at the measure because of financial uncertainty, fearing it would see too high a hike to their monthly electric bills. Hopper said it was re-worked this year, capping the additional cost to residents’ bills at $1.50 per month.

“I was very surprised by the margin of vote in the House,” said Del. Liz Bobo (D-Howard), who was a co-sponsor of the bill. “I just think another year created a better understanding.”

Sen. Ed Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) voted against the bill last year and plans to do the same should it reach the senate within the next week.

“I’m against it because of the economics,” he said. “The economic rate of return doesn’t rise to the cost that we have to invest into it.”

Reilly also said wind could be more unreliable to power homes than fossil fuels.

“It’s intermittent energy, and we need a consistent, predictable source of energy,” he said, adding he would support the bill if the wind turbines were closer to shore and the total price was cheaper.

However, Reilly expects the senate to vote one of O’Malley’s major pieces of legislation through.

“It’s part of O’Malley’s very broad and aggressive agenda,” he said. “It’s my anticipation that if it gets out of committee it will pass in the senate.”

MaryPIRG campaign coordinator Sam Zwerling said the rally was intended to “show delegates in Annapolis that citizens and students in Maryland are wholeheartedly in support of the offshore wind bill.”

While lawmakers debate the economics and environmental minutia of the bill, student activists will continue to lobby on behalf of the legislation.

“Not only do people care, but they care enough to come to Annapolis with their opinion,” Zwerling said.

bach@umdbk.com