Two clean energy bills in Md.; one clear choice

This week, the Maryland General Assembly will evaluate two very different proposals for the future of energy and climate policy in our state. One, The 100% Clean Renewable Energy and Equity Act, will fundamentally change the trajectory for wind and solar development, strengthen our economy and build a solid pathway to using only clean renewable electricity by 2035. The other, The Clean Energy and Jobs Act (CEJA), will accelerate the current Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mechanisms to reach a target of 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

There are five key reasons why Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility supports the 100 percent bill.

1.) It ends counterproductive subsidies. Under the current RPS, ratepayers subsidize polluting sources of electricity generation, including the burning of garbage and wood waste. In 2015, Maryland ratepayers paid more than $46 million to industries inside and outside of Maryland that added — rather than reduced — greenhouse gas emissions and other dangerous pollutants to the atmosphere. These harm air, water and soil quality; contribute to respiratory, cardiovascular and other ailments and add to climate disruption.

The 100 percent bill, by contrast, removes all financial subsidies to polluting sources of electricity generation. Renewable energy, by definition, will only include generation from wind, solar, tidal and small hydropower.

2.) The 100 percent bill creates a more stable, transparent and effective mechanism to accelerate solar development. Maryland’s current RPS uses tradable solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) to subsidize solar energy development. The value of these credits fluctuates based on supply and demand, creating boom and bust conditions that can damage the solar industry in our state. The price of a Maryland SREC went from $180 in 2015 to approximately $6 at present, putting solar jobs in jeopardy.

The 100 percent bill, by contrast, replaces SRECs with a predictable upfront rebate through the Megawatt Block Program. This program provides the highest rebates to early adopters; rebates then decrease over time as solar costs decline, ultimately reaching zero when incentives are no longer necessary.

Separate incentive rates for residential, community solar, commercial and utility-scale development ensure a balanced approach to solar development in Maryland. Businesses and ratepayers want transparency and predictability; block programs provide both.

3.) The 100 percent bill incentivizes offshore wind projects through long-term power purchase agreements. Endowed with the Port of Baltimore, Maryland is well positioned to become a manufacturing hub for the industry, bringing good jobs to our region for years to come. But this requires a commitment now to support offshore wind over the next decade or more.

Maryland is competing with other states, notably Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, which already have or are close to setting ambitious targets. Without similar targets set in the near future, Maryland will lose out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a large number of manufacturing jobs. The CEJA lacks a sufficient long-term commitment to offshore wind to enable us to win those jobs. Legislators have a clear choice if they want to support a revival of manufacturing in Maryland.

4.) The 100 percent bill builds equity into our energy system. Like New Jersey, it limits energy bills for low-income households to six percent of gross income, which in turn will help reduce evictions, improve health outcomes and stabilize communities.

5.) The 100 percent bill creates a technically and economically feasible pathway to rapidly transform Maryland’s electricity sector. The targets for solar build-out are ambitious but mirror what has already taken place in California. The targets for wind development are consistent with the goals of other East Coast states. And, with 100 percent clean renewable electricity in place by 2035, we will be ready for the electric transportation revolution currently under way.

Taking into account the social cost of carbon emissions as published by EPA under the previous administration, the cost of transitioning to renewable electricity will be lower than the cost of not making these changes. And that is even before including the positive economic and fiscal impact of the thousands of jobs that will be created.

The costs of damage from extreme weather are already setting records. Sixteen major weather events caused $306 billion of damage in the U.S. in 2017, averaging about $2,500 per household. Given current political realities at the federal level, states must lead the transition to a clean renewable energy economy.

The 100 percent bill provides a well-constructed pathway to 100 percent clean renewable electricity that prioritizes public health, job growth, environmental justice, equity, fiscal responsibility and climate protection. We urge the Maryland General Assembly to step up and pass the 100 percent bill.

Dr. Gina Angiola is a member of the Board of Directors of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. Tim Whitehouse (twhitehouse@psr.org) is the group’s executive director.

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