Just weeks ago, it looked like how Maryland residents will get their electricity in the future was largely settled. In April, the Maryland General Assembly approved legislation mandating that at least half of the state’s future power needs be supplied by renewable energy by 2030, and last month, Gov. Larry Hogan, who once derided such measures as a “sunshine and wind tax,” allowed the bill to become law without his signature, arguing that it didn’t go far enough.
But it appears some folks didn’t get the message.
Mr. Hogan had a point that the Clean Energy Jobs Act continues a loophole that allows trash incineration to be classified as a form of renewable energy while doing too little to assure development of green energy within the state. Today, most of Maryland’s green energy is produced outside its borders. To change that requires a concerted effort — build more wind and solar electricity production and less that’s fueled by fossil fuels. Yet, before the ink is even dry on the 50 percent mandate, there are forces at work moving in the exact opposite direction.
Start with the effort by the owners to take the coal-fired C.P. Crane Generating Station in Bowleys Quarters and revive the now-shuttered power plant as a natural gas-powered peak generator. While it would certainly contribute less to climate change than when it was fueled by coal (burning natural gas creates considerably less carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas), it would nevertheless represent a substantial investment in the wrong direction. At best, natural gas is transitional fuel as the world moves toward renewables. Might it further discourage investors from developing green energy solutions in Maryland? Would its presence reduce the likelihood that the state would fail to meet its 10-year goal? Incredibly, those factors were not considered when a Maryland Public Service Commission judge approved the owner’s plans last month.
Fortunately, the PSC may yet intervene. At least, its members have agreed to review the project. But that’s no guarantee that Crane won’t still be given the green light to convert to natural gas. Maryland law doesn’t specifically call on the commissioners to consider the impact of such a decision on the climate — although it should be understood, particularly given the impact of rising sea levels and worsening storms on a coastal state.
Meanwhile, a community that should be especially sensitive to changes in the climate — a town that literally faces getting swept out to the Atlantic Ocean — continues to resist a plan to bring off-shore wind energy to Maryland. Last month, U.S. Wind announced plans to construct a meteorological tower in the middle of its approved “Wind Energy Area” 17 miles off the coast in mid-July. How far is that? Hint: Quite a way. It’s roughly the distance from the Ocean City inlet to Bethany Beach, Del. Yet Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan (and some others) complained recently that it’s going to be a hardship to fishermen as construction scares off lobster and fish. Oh, and he still opposes the project that’s already been approved by the Maryland PSC on the grounds that it’s too close to shore.
We’ve pointed out Ocean City’s shortsightedness before, but it looks like we need to do it again. Massively tall as they will be, the potential 32 U.S. Wind turbines off-shore will appear like matchsticks on the horizon — if the weather is right — when the project becomes operational in 2023. Yet Ocean City officials continue to fret about mostly aesthetic concerns. When will they recognize that this opportunity to be a national leader in green energy can become the resort’s calling card? Here’s the potential slogan: “Come to Ocean City for a carbon-free vacation. The only footprint you leave will be in the sand.”
The fact is, climate change isn’t some theoretical threat. It’s not a question of “what if,” it’s a question of when and how bad. Just because the U.S. is currently stuck with a president who seems to have missed science class doesn’t mean Americans can ignore a threat you can’t run away form (as much as Oregon Republicans may try). In Maryland, elected officials and regulators need to be rowing in the same direction — or else find themselves rowing in actual boats soon enough.