Maryland would join California as a front-runner in clean energy under a state bill environmentalists hope to pass this year, but the Republican governor remains noncommittal and some lawmakers say the state isn’t ready.
The proposed Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019 would raise the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030, meaning half the state’s energy would have to come from renewable energy sources by the end of the next decade.
The bill also would require lawmakers to develop a plan by 2023 to put the state on track for totally carbon-free power by 2040.
Such moves could boost the local economy by requiring more clean energy development within the state and spur demand for wind and solar power, the bill’s supporters said.
In September 2018, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a bill setting a goal of relying entirely on zero-emissions energy sources for its electricity by 2045.
Proponents in Maryland said they’ve got the votes to move forward. The state’s new legislative session began Jan. 9.
“There’s momentum for this legislation,” Mike Tidwell, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, told Bloomberg Environment.
With a veto-proof supermajority of supporters in both houses of the legislature, the bill should pass if it gets brought up for a vote, according to Tidwell.
So far, 113 members of the general assembly—63 percent of senators and 58 percent of delegates—have publicly endorsed the proposal, either by co-sponsoring last year’s bill or signing a petition, according to the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, a 501(c)(4) organization that was created to promote the clean energy legislation.
The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman and Delegate Cheryl D. Glenn, both Democrats. It will be introduced as soon it is finalized, likely within days, an aide in Feldman’s office told Bloomberg Environment Jan. 9.
‘Regressive Forms of Taxation’
First, though, it has to get out of committee—something that a similar version of the bill failed to do last year.
Del. Christopher Adams, a Republican on the House Economics Matters Committee, where the bill will start once it is introduced, told Bloomberg Environment that he will review the bill with caution.
“I’m concerned with how these high standards raise energy prices, both to the ratepayer and the taxpayer,” he told Bloomberg Environment. “These are regressive forms of taxation that show up on their energy bill.”
Adams said he also wonders how Maryland will manage to meet higher standards since it is struggling to meet current regulations. He also said he worries if his constituents on the Eastern Shore would welcome rapid solar development.
When lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 upping the state’s clean energy targets to its current standard of 25 percent by 2020, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed it as an unnecessary tax increase, forcing a legislative override of his veto in 2017.
Yet some of Hogan’s more recent actions have kindled hope among climate activists that he may back stronger climate goals.
Last year, Hogan committed Maryland to the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of governors working together to advance clean energy policies and uphold goals in the Paris Agreement. And Hogan recently co-authored an editorial in the Washington Post with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) calling on states to lead the way in climate change.
Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill wouldn’t say whether the governor would back the measure in 2019.
“The governor has one of the strongest environmental records in the country, and—as always—will consider any legislation that reaches his desk,” DeLeaver-Churchill told Bloomberg Environment in a Jan. 8 email.
Verso Corp., a paper and pulp manufacturer that runs the Verso Luke Mill in western Maryland, has lobbied against earlier versions of the bill that called for eliminating a liquid biomass known as “black liquor” from the list of accepted renewable energy sources.
The company will oppose any bill that eliminates black liquor as a Tier 1 renewable energy source in the state’s renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, which dictates how much renewable energy must be used, or that revises the portfolio to put liquid biomass at a competitive disadvantage in the state’s renewable energy credit market, Verso Corp. spokeswoman Kathi Rowzie told Bloomberg Environment in an email Jan. 8.
The mill uses the liquid biomass, a wood byproduct of the paper-making process, to self-generate more than 40 percent of the energy used in its operations, Rowzie said.
“The liquid biomass used to generate energy at the Luke Mill displaces approximately 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas-emitting coal each year and reduces waste going to landfills,” Rowzie said. “The expansion of solar, wind, and hydropower is certainly a worthwhile objective, and may create new jobs in Maryland.
“But paper mill jobs are green jobs, too, and legislators should continue to support them by rejecting any legislation that eliminates renewable liquid biomass from the Maryland RPS.”
Increase in Utility Bills
The higher standards in the bill would increase the average utility bill in Maryland by about $2 per month by 2030.
Yet the resulting drop in greenhouse gas emissions from the changes would be the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road annually, the bill’s advocates said.
In addition, the new standards will create jobs, since it not only requires Maryland get more of its energy from renewables, but also requires that many of them to come from in-state sources.
The bill calls for 14.5 percent of Maryland’s energy to come from in-state solar installations by 2030, said Lauren Barchi, program director for Solar United Neighbors of Maryland, a group that advocates for more solar power.
If passed, it would be the largest solar carve-out in the country and could create 5,000 new solar jobs in Maryland alone, Barchi said. Maryland’s current standards call for 2.5 percent solar by 2025.
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