Both houses of Maryland’s General Assembly last week reiterated their support for raising the state’s renewable energy goals, overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a measure that had passed last year by wide margins.
By a vote of 88 to 51 in the House and 32 to 13 in the Senate, lawmakers revived a bill committing Maryland to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, with at least 2.5 percent of it from solar power. That’s an increase over the current goal of 20 percent renewable by 2022, with 2 percent from solar. Both votes easily surpassed the three-fifths majority needed to make it law over the governor’s objections.
The law compels electricity suppliers to increase the amount of renewable power they provide, or pay penalties for falling short.
Hogan last year vetoed the legislation, dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, saying that although its goals were laudable he could not go along with asking the state’s electricity customers to pay more for renewable power. He appealed to lawmakers this year to sustain his veto and join him in trying other ways to boost renewable energy that didn’t require ratepayers to subsidize them.
A spokeswoman for Hogan said lawmakers will now have to answer to voters who will be “forced to foot the bill for an unnecessary addition to a program that already exists and one that subsidizes out-of-state companies.” Some renewable energy credits used by suppliers of Maryland electricity to meet the law’s requirements are generated by projects outside of Maryland.
In last week’s debates, Republican delegates backed the governor, likening the bill to a de facto tax increase that they contended would be a burden to many households and businesses.
Fiscal analysts with the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services projected that meeting the bills’ higher renewable energy goals could increase the average residential customer’s monthly bill by anywhere from 77 cents to $3.06 in 2020, depending on a variety of factors.
Supporters of the bill say the cost to ratepayers is small, and the state’s “renewable portfolio standard” is the most effective way to get more wind, solar and other non-fossil projects built. They argue that setting a higher goal will create incentives for development of roughly 1,300 megawatts of new clean energy in the state, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2.7 million metric tons per year and supporting more than 1,000 jobs annually in the growing renewable energy industry.
Environmentalists hailed the General Assembly’s action. “This is one of the first state legislative votes nationwide to show that states will fight back when leaders like Hogan and the climate deniers in Washington attempt to thwart progress on clean-energy jobs and global warming pollution,’’ said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
“The Senate voted for the Clean Energy Jobs Act because it is sound economic and environmental policy,” said Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat who is lead sponsor of the bill passed Thursday. “Not only will this legislation create thousands of good-paying green jobs, it will put the state on the road to meeting our renewable energy goals — a vision shared by both Democrats and Republicans across Maryland.”
“Maryland’s legislature has voted for progress,” said House majority leader Bill Frick after the vote. Frick, also a Montgomery County Democrat and top sponsor of the House bill, said the vote was a stand for “cleaner air, for good jobs, and for leadership in an emerging industry,” and a rejection of what he called “disingenuous and inaccurate posturing of Hogan’s politically motivated veto message.”
by Timothy Wheeler
Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.