Pair of studies criticize Maryland renewable energy policy as 'cleanwashing' pollution

Two new studies criticize a Maryland program designed to promote renewable energy projects, saying it also boosts fossil fuels and other sources of air pollution.

In its study, the environmental group Food and Water Watch accuses the state of "cleanwashing" dirty sources of energy. Maryland was among seven states whose renewable energy policies got a failing grade in the group’s nationwide report card.

Trash incineration and a paper-making byproduct known as black liquor are among the energy sources Maryland labels as “renewable.”

That makes trash incinerators in Baltimore and in Montgomery County and paper mills across the eastern United States eligible for millions of dollars in subsidies from Maryland electricity ratepayers — a system detailed in a Baltimore Sun investigation last year.

In other states, renewable energy incentives go to everything from burning tires or wood to so-called clean coal and nuclear power.

Mitch Jones, a senior policy advocate for Food and Water Watch, said he thinks the policies across the country have developed by inertia, as new programs are designed based on flawed policies in other states, and because people assume that anything labeled “renewable” is better than fossil fuels.

But the group argues that doesn’t mean all renewable energy should be considered clean, and “doesn’t mean we need to be subsidizing as renewable energy the burning of waste streams for electricity,” Jones said.

“The science of climate change has moved so rapidly that the programs have failed to keep up with everything we’re learning,” he said.

The group gave Maryland an F in part because it subsidizes five types of energy generation that environmentalists consider “dirty.” The other states that earned failing grades were Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

It gave Hawaii and Vermont the highest grades, B- and C+, respectively, because they set high goals for renewable energy adoption and include few polluting sources of energy in their incentive programs.

In a separate study, the group Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility suggests Maryland’s renewable energy incentives do little to promote a transition to a “green” energy grid because they don’t actually require utilities to buy electricity from wind or solar farms or other clean energy sources. Utilities in the state only have to pay the power producers for certificates known as renewable energy credits. And the utilities can buy the certificates from energy producers outside of Maryland.

The group said those policy flaws allow Maryland to “claim credit for renewable energy produced and sold elsewhere while continuing to buy electricity generated from fossil fuels and nuclear power,” sending “no-strings-attached subsidies from Maryland ratepayers to energy producers, often in far away places.”

The report suggested Maryland tighten its policy and require utilities to actually buy energy from clean power producers in Maryland.

Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat and chairman of the House of Delegates Economic Matters committee, said he thinks Maryland is “making strides” at growing its renewable energy supply and promoting development of solar and wind projects across the state.

He dismissed the state’s F grade from Food and Water Watch, pointing out that many states — 21 of them, according to the group’s study — don’t offer any renewable energy incentives at all.

“Just because we’re not where we need to be, it doesn’t mean we’re failing,” Davis said. “Many states haven’t done nearly as much as Maryland has done. Those states should probably get a K or an L or something.”

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