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Delegates revive proposal to mandate that half of Maryland's electricity come from renewable energy sources

A Maryland House of Delegates committee on Friday revived a proposal to mandate that half the state's energy come from renewable sources.

At the same time, the House Economic Matters Committee removed a Senate-approved provision in the legislation that targeted a Baltimore trash incinerator.

In approving the 50 percent green energy mandate last month, the Senate also voted to declare that so-called waste-to-energy plants (ones that burn trash to generate power) should not be considered clean energy. That element of the bill appeared to doom the legislation in the House.

But, in a vote that surprised advocates lobbying behind the scenes to advance the bill, the House committee approved it Friday evening by a 15-6 vote. The same panel nearly voted down the legislation weeks earlier.

The House would have to pass the measure and the bill would need to get Senate approval again — all by the legislative session’s end Monday night — to send the legislation to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to consider. He has, in the past, vetoed similar legislation.

The mandate is seen as key to stimulating a green energy economy in Maryland and across the country. That’s because it requires that utilities, and by extension, ratepayers, subsidize green energy projects such as wind farms and solar farms. The subsidies also go to waste incinerators, paper mills and so-called “biomass” facilities that burn wood and other organic material.

Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs the Economic Matters committee, said concerns about jobs drove the debate within the panel. There were worries that taking subsidies away from waste incinerators would kill jobs in that industry, he said.

“That was certainly a concern for legislators as well as some folks in organized labor,” he said.

And there were also fears that job growth has slowed, if not reversed, in the solar energy industry. That prompted lawmakers to negotiate a compromise over the final week of the legislative session.

“We want to help stabilize that industry as much as we can,” he said.

Under current law, the state faces a mandate that about 20 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources this year. That rises to 25 percent by 2022.

Environmental groups expressed thanks to the House committee for advancing the bill and urged other lawmakers to follow suit, saying that a greater commitment to clean energy is needed to combat climate change.

“We are already seeing the impacts of climate change, yet the federal government continues to do little in response — it has perhaps never been so necessary to take proactive steps on the state level,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

It was not immediately clear what reception the bill would receive in the House, or in the Senate. Davis said that if the legislation clears the House, senators have indicated to him they would likely concur with the committee’s changes to it.

The Senate approved the provision targeting two state trash incinerators, including the Wheelabrator Baltimore facility near Russell Street and Interstate 95. They sought to address concerns that the plant harms city residents’ health. The facility is the largest single source of industrial pollution in Baltimore.

Because it’s classified as renewable energy under state law, it has received millions of dollars in ratepayer subsidies. The Covanta Montgomery trash incinerator in Dickerson also receives the subsidies.

While the General Assembly was considering the clean energy legislation this winter, the Baltimore City Council meanwhile approved its own measure to drastically restrict the Wheelabrator incinerator’s emissions. The facility’s owners have said the new air quality standards are impossible for the incinerator to meet, and could force it to close.

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