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Marylanders want more solar, wind power

Marylanders want more solar, wind power
New survey finds growing support among Marylanders for increasing electricity generation from solar, projects like the one pictured here. Majority favors requiring increased renewable energy, even if they have to pay more. (Kim Hairston)

Marylanders really, really want to get more of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, a new poll finds. Most also apparently back government mandates to make it happen, even if they have to pay a little more for their power.

The survey by George Mason University comes as environmental activists prepare to launch a campaign to press Maryland lawmakers to double the state's renewable energy goal, even though there's been only modest progress to date toward the current target.

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The poll also comes in the closing weeks of a hotly contested race for governor. Although the Democratic and Republican contenders have said little about energy policy, recent interviews found they differ over how far the state should go toward promoting wind and solar.

In querying more than 2,000 residents, George Mason detected growing support for renewable energy, with 78 percent favoring development of more solar generation while 69 percent back offshore and land-based wind. Those ratings are 7 to 10 points higher than in a similar poll of Marylanders the school did last year.

(A majority also favor more hydroelectric generation, though it's unlikely any more dams will be built.)

Both surveys were done in partnership with the Climate Communication Consortium of Maryland, a coalition of environmental, academic and other groups.

About 44 percent of Maryland's electricity now comes from coal-fired plants, while another 40 percent comes from nuclear facilities, with natural gas the fuel for another 8 percent of the state's power.

Half of those asked said they'd like to see the state get less of its electricity from burning coal, while opinions were split on natural gas. Forty-nine percent favor increased gas use generally, the poll found, but only 28 percent are still on board if it comes via "fracking," the slang term for drilling using hydraulic fracturing. The state has a de-facto moratorium in fracking for gas, but is nearing the end of a three-year study of environmental and health concerns.

Nearly three-fourths of those polled supported the state's current clean-energy mandate, which requires that 20 percent of electricity in Maryland come from renewable sources by 2022. The state is only about a third of the way to that goal now, but 65 percent of those asked support doubling the target to 40 percent by 2025.

Surveys like this often draw criticism because those polled are not queried about the depth of their commitment. George Mason did ask, and a majority said they'd be willing to pay more, ranging from $1 to $30 or more a month.

In recent interviews, the two men vying to be Maryland's next governor differed over whether the state should subsidize renewable energy development.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said he believes it's a key part of what the state should be doing to fight climate change, even if it means asking residents to pay a little more for their electricity. Brown's current boss, Gov. Martin O'Malley, pushed through the current clean-energy mandate as well as a plan to have Maryland ratepayers pay up to $1.50 a month extra to subsidize development of a large offshore wind project. Brown argues the push will generate jobs while also helping the environment.

GOP candidate Larry Hogan, though, said he opposes government subsidies for wind and solar projects. Though he said he supports increasing renewable energy, Hogan said Marylanders already pay higher-than-average power bills, so he wouldn't ask them to pay any more. He expressed impatience with the O'Malley administration's cautious approach to fracking, and said he's convinced it can be done safely, and would encourage its development if elected.

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