Opinion: Time Is Now for Ambitious Approach to Clean Energy in Maryland

March 6, 2019

As originally published in Maryland Matters

Fifty percent off is good, but 100 percent off is better. When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these are the stakes for our state.

Marylanders deserve a plan that keeps energy costs low for homeowners and businesses, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and creates jobs. Senate Bill 516, the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act, is a great starting point for this conversation.

The bill, which was discussed Tuesday at a Senate hearing in Annapolis and is up for a hearing in the House Friday, aims to increase the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from 25 percent by 2022 to 50 percent by 2030.

On the heels of a resounding re-election, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is positioned to lead the clean energy conversation with the eyes of the nation on him. In his State of the State address he committed to climate leadership and noted that under his watch Maryland has clean air standards that are stronger than 48 other states and nearly twice as strong as the Paris Accord recommendations. And Democratic legislators are eager to follow through on campaign promises tied to the environment. That’s why the time is now for a technology-neutral plan that gets Maryland to zero net emissions from the power sector by 2040.

The bill being considered this week does not do enough to give Maryland the most options to reach this goal. It narrowly focuses on renewables and would create more jobs out of state than for our own friends and neighbors.

Looking at the data, it’s clear that a more inclusive and flexible approach can be more aggressive and get Maryland to 100 percent clean energy.

A key fact is that Maryland imports almost half of its electricity from neighboring states. That’s why the mandate to buy renewable power from a narrow-list Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard means nearly 80 percent of the credits and subsidies are going outside of the state. Maryland ratepayers are paying extra to create clean energy jobs out of state.

While the goal of 50 percent renewable energy is good, more of the same narrow-list approach will deliver the same outsourcing of jobs and high electricity bills. Maryland residential and industrial customers already pay 10 percent more than the national average.

The strict focus on renewables also forgets that Maryland’s largest source of zero greenhouse gas emissions is the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant. In 2017, it accounted for 44 percent of the state’s net electricity generation and employs over 800 people.

Get serious

If we are serious about climate change, we need all options on the table, not less.

A technology-neutral approach that includes renewables and other clean energy sources creates more options for power providers, keeps costs lower for consumers, and it also gives the market more certainty.

Indeed, a key problem with the narrow-list approach is what’s on the list can just as easily be taken off. Labor leaders and workers remember that last year’s version of the bill cut off waste and biomass-based energy plants, despite their important role in keeping refuse and excess nutrients out of streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Charles Hernick

By focusing on outcomes: lower emissions at the lowest possible cost, Maryland can be a pioneer in transforming carbon into a commodity. Some approaches are well established in Maryland already. Carbon offsets through reforestation and land-restoration are easy to quantify and have important co-benefits for outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife, and cleaning up the bay. Some technologies like carbon capture and utilization are still on the frontier.

A technology-neutral approach to net zero carbon emissions will send a national signal that Maryland is the place to invest in energy innovation.

For example, the possible applications for a Maryland-based, veteran-owned biodigester company that handles all food waste from the Naval Academy are impressive. So, too, are the possibilities for offshore wind and the revitalizations to the Port of Baltimore that could come with it.

Be a National Leader

It is exciting to think about Maryland as the home for energy innovation and next-generation technologies.

A technology-neutral approach to achieve net zero carbon emissions can reduce the need for subsidies and grow jobs in Maryland. And by focusing on emissions, the plan could complement integration with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

This is the 10-year-old agreement with nine other mid-Atlantic and Northeast states that has cut power-sector carbon pollution in the region by 37 percent over the past decade.

Thanks to Gov. Hogan, Maryland already pledged to cut 30 percent more from 2020 to 2030. I’m eager to see if Gov. Hogan and state legislators will seize the opportunity to do more and lead nationally.

–Charles Hernick

The writer is the director of policy and advocacy at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum, a nonprofit organization committed to educating the public and influencing the national conversation about actionable, free-market, responsible clean energy solutions.

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