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Maryland House overrides Hogan veto of energy bill

House votes to override Hogan's veto of renewable energy bill; Senate up Thursday.

The House of Delegates on Tuesday took the first step to reverse Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of a renewable energy bill, voting 88-51 to overturn it.

The state Senate plans to vote Thursday. To override a governor's veto, three-fifths of the Senate must join the House in voting to do so.

Delegates debated the merits of the bill for about an hour. It would require a greater portion of the electricity sold in Maryland to come from renewable sources, such as solar power and wind power.

Republicans said the bill would put an unnecessary financial burden on residents and businesses. Democrats countered that the state needs to increase the use of renewable energy to fight climate change and improve air quality.

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse issued a statement saying that delegates who voted for the override are "out of touch."

"For years, Marylanders have made it clear that they are sick and tired of these kinds of rate increases — hopefully our good Senators won't turn a deaf ear to their calls like their colleagues in the House just did," Chasse said.

The bill, which passed last year, would require one-quarter of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, up from the current requirement of 20 percent by 2022.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat, said the tougher renewable requirement would spur the growth of good-paying jobs in the energy industry.

"Clean energy creates jobs," she said.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke warned his colleagues that by increasing renewable energy requirements, "you are increasing the rate of electricity bills for your citizens and mine, whether they can afford it or not."

"This veto provides us a great opportunity to stop and take a look at what we're doing," said Kipke, a Republican who represents Anne Arundel County.

A nonpartisan analysis of the bill by the state Department of Legislative Services estimated that residential electricity customers might pay between 48 cents and $1.45 more per month due to the increased renewable energy requirements.

Republicans argued the increased cost could make it more difficult to attract and retain businesses in Maryland. They echoed Hogan's comments that the bill amounts to a "sunshine and wind tax" and also repeated that the bill will cause "rates to go up, jobs to go down."

Del. Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the House's environment committee, said he's heard those objections since 2004, when the state passed the first renewable-energy standard.

"The calamities have never happened," he said.

The vote broke largely along party lines. Just one Democrat, Del. Ned Carey of Anne Arundel County, voted against overriding the veto.

The bill passed with 92 votes last year. That included four Republicans who on Tuesday flipped their votes to support the governor's veto.

Del. Chris West, a Baltimore County Republican, was among the GOP members who changed their vote.

West said lawmakers should study the bill again and "go slow" before increasing renewable-energy standards. He raised concerns about the growing practice of farmers contracting with energy companies to cover their fields in solar panels — a practice that Baltimore County has struggled to regulate.

West said it would be better to offer incentives to locate solar panels "where they should go."

The other Republicans who voted for the bill initially but then supported the governor's veto were Del. Susan Aumann and Del. Christian Miele of Baltimore County and Del. Andrew Cassilly of Harford and Cecil counties.

Hogan led an effort to block the override, repeating his "sunshine and wind tax" line in interviews and criticizing the bill on social media.

House Majority Leader C. William Frick of Montgomery County dismissed Hogan's opposition as "a policy objection disguised as a tax objection."

Frick, a Democrat who was lead sponsor of the bill, noted that utility companies and major business organizations haven't lined up to oppose it.

Leading up to the vote, Hogan's Change Maryland group posted on Facebook a picture of a field with cows. It included the caption: "We don't need another weather tax. Save the Sunshine."

Immediately after the House vote, Change Maryland posted a black-and-white picture of the House chamber with the words: "The House of Delegates just voted to increase utility bills for struggling Maryland families. Now, only the Senate can stop this."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has publicly predicted that his chamber will easily override Hogan's veto on a party-line 33-14 vote.

Republican leaders in the Senate indicated last week they thought they could pick off a handful of votes to thwart the override, which incensed Miller. He declared: "We've got all our votes."

Twenty-nine votes are needed to override the veto in the Senate.

Environmentalists and climate activists were quick to praise the House vote on the veto.

David Smedick of the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign said it's important for state governments to promote clean-energy policies.

"With the Trump administration moving to silence even a mention of climate change, states like Maryland will need to lead the fight," he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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