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Don't leave Marylanders in the dark, modernize 'the grid'

Infrastructure isn’t sexy. But Marylanders know that letting maintenance and modernization needs get ahead of you can come with a high price. Just ask any of the tens of thousands of people who couldn’t get to work on time because of the Baltimore Metro’s recent and sudden shut down for a month of repairs.

Now Maryland has an opportunity to modernize its electricity grid to accommodate growing demands for clean, efficient energy and electric vehicles. To get from source to switch, electricity has to travel through an interconnected infrastructure network, a.k.a. “the grid.” And just like Baltimore’s subway system, the grid needs periodic maintenance, repair and strategic upgrades that keep the state empowered to grow.

Maryland’s grid is going through just such a modernization process right now. A proceeding called Public Conference 44 (PC44) has Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) considering options to improve our state’s electric distribution systems. The end product should be a grid that can handle our emerging clean energy future. It must be a modern smart grid that can accommodate renewable energy sources, distributed generation and the attendant cost savings and moneymaking opportunities that can benefit Maryland’s families, businesses and institutions.

A wide range of stakeholders, from national security experts to family farmers to entrepreneurs are calling on the PSC to use PC44 to update the grid and design a system able to support a growing clean energy economy. The PSC should listen to these wise voices.

Maryland has already set ambitious clean energy goals, including boosting the number of electric vehicles on the road to 300,000 by 2025, and reaching 25 percent renewable energy by 2020. While Governor Hogan hasn’t always supported these efforts, these laws are on the books, and he should support the will of the people by facilitating their success. With the market continually reducing the price of renewables, especially given the state’s climate pollution reduction commitments, a modernized grid only makes sense.

One more reason to modernize the grid and make it more flexible is resiliency. Crises both natural and manmade can disrupt the grid and leave the state powerless. A modern smart grid can be designed in a way that facilitates getting people back online quickly. The reality is that our state surrounds Washington, D.C., and a terrorist attack could wipe out our access to electricity. And as our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico know first-hand, major natural disasters can leave people without electricity for months.

Rather than risk leaving Marylanders in the dark, Governor Hogan and the PSC should take steps now to build a smart, resilient, flexible grid that can easily accommodate large-scale renewable energy, the rise of electrified transportation and Marylanders’ increasing need for consistent, reliable power. As the world moves away from fossil fuels, all of us have a vested interest in ensuring an electricity system that can handle the emerging energy challenges of this century and the next.

Chelsea Henderson (chelsea@catercommunications.com) formerly worked for Republican Virginia Sen. John Warner and works on clean energy and climate change policy.

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