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Program that aims to reduce power plant emissions has spurred $4 billion in economic activity, study finds

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state power plant emissions-capping program that includes Maryland, has generated $4 billion in net economic activity, even accounting for the costs it has added to the price of electricity, a study released Tuesday found.

Under the program, power plants must bid and pay to be allowed to exceed caps on emissions of the greenhouse gases that scientists say are responsible for global climate change.

The proceeds from the “auction” of those emissions privileges have totaled $2.9 billion since 2008, money Maryland and other participating states spend on energy-efficiency programs and electricity bill rebates.

The study by the Analysis Group, a global consulting firm, found that the economic impact of state-by-state spending on energy programs — using the money generated by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI — more than offset the cost of the program.

“Rather than being an economic drag on the RGGI states, it’s actually providing economic benefits,” said Paul Hibbard, one of the study’s authors.

The study was funded by a group of foundations largely focused on climate, renewable energy and the environment. It was vetted by a technical advisory committee that includes representatives from large energy companies such as Exelon Corp., the parent of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., and ConEdison.

In addition to Maryland, the states participating in RGGI are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

New Jersey left the organization in 2012 but is rejoining, and Virginia also is moving to join.

Hibbard said the way states have spent the proceeds of the carbon auction has helped create more than 40,000 new jobs across those states. About half of the money has been invested in programs to promote energy efficiency, 18 percent of it on renewable energy programs and 13 percent on bill credits, the study found.

In Maryland, proceeds are divided between bill credits and energy-efficiency rebates and grants. The state is unique in largely targeting low-income residents with bill credits, Hibbard said.

The report did not break out state-by-state costs and economic impacts.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan recommitted Maryland to the RGGI program last August, joining with the other states in setting a goal to reduce the region’s carbon pollution cap by 30 percent between 2020 and 2030.

Earlier this month, he signed a bill into law that would require the General Assembly’s permission for any future governor to attempt to leave the RGGI program, as Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did.

The legislation had been viewed widely as an attempt by the Democrat-controlled assembly to restrict Hogan’s authority, but Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor has lobbied the Virginia and New Jersey governors personally to join the initiative and believes Maryland “must remain a committed and active member of RGGI.”

“Given the governor's strong support for this critical partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he applauds the legislature's work to make it harder for future governors to undo the Hogan administration's legacy of protecting and preserving Maryland's natural resources,” Chasse said.

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