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Md. energy approach will affect national security

On the first day of the 2016 Maryland General Assembly session, state legislators joined clean energy advocates in Annapolis to push for legislation that would significantly boost Maryland’s use of renewable energy, while creating the largest clean energy jobs training program in state history, supporters say.

Maryland policymakers have important decisions to make about our state’s energy future. Will they try to maintain the status quo, or will they act decisively to ensure that the state is well positioned to benefit from the renewable energy revolution sweeping the nation and the globe? For the sake of our economy and America’s national security, I hope my state sets its sights firmly on a clean energy future.

I serve as the executive director of the CNA Military Advisory Board (MAB), a panel of high-ranking retired admirals and generals who study critical national security issues. In its most recent report, the MAB found that a global transition to cleaner, more efficient energy is well underway.

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The MAB concluded that the approach the U.S. takes to this energy transition will affect our national security through our global competitiveness, our diplomatic effectiveness, and the strength of our military. Establishing a strong and resilient electric grid is key, and the states have a critical role to play in this regard.

A coalition of environmentalists, clergy and solar and wind energy companies launched a campaign Wednesday calling for half of Maryland's electricity to come from renewable sources.

This is why I, as a Maryland resident, am especially interested in the Public Service Commission’s decision to explore modernizing the state’s electric grid. Options being considered include expanding access to clean, efficient sources of energy, like rooftop and community solar; developing energy storage for intermittent sources of energy, such as wind and solar; and supporting the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Taking bold action on each of these energy reforms would give Maryland, and other states that do the same, a competitive edge in the global economy, while ensuring a safer and more resilient electric grid in the face of extreme weather events or potential cyber attacks.

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The world is quickly moving to clean energy as it becomes an increasingly affordable alternative to fossil fuels. To remain competitive in the global economy, Maryland must update its electric grid to accommodate more renewables. Otherwise, it risks paying more for traditional sources of energy when the rest of the nation and the world have moved on to using cheaper, more advanced alternatives.

Clean energy and energy efficiency are also fast-growing sources of new jobs. Last year, more Americans were employed in the solar industry than in fossil fuel power generation. The wind industry employs an additional 100,000 Americans, and the energy efficiency industry employs more than 2.2 million.

As a plan advances to cut pollution from Northeastern power plants 30 percent by 2030, environmental groups called for it to cover more facilities and to promote investment in communities of color.

Clean energy also matters from a national security point of view, in part because the strength of our national defense is tied to the strength of our economy. Developing homegrown, renewable sources of energy also boosts energy independence. Loosening ties to nations that don’t always share our values allows America greater freedom of action on the world stage.

Clean, efficient, distributed energy is increasingly important for military installations, as well, especially given that the Department of Defense is the single largest energy customer in the country. Across the U.S., the military is installing microgrids and moving to clean energy in order to reduce energy costs and boost resiliency. At Fort Detrick here in Maryland, more than 200 households are partially powered by rooftop solar energy. The Naval Academy in Annapolis has adopted aggressive energy efficiency plans and was able to save nearly $7 million in energy costs in 2010 alone. And last year, Naval Air Station Patuxent River was named the winner in a regional energy efficiency competition.

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Black liquor, a byproduct of the paper-making process that is burned to power paper mills, is Maryland's largest source of "renewable" energy, earning it millions of dollars in ratepayer subsidies.

Electric vehicles are also an important part of the energy equation. The MAB’s latest report found electric vehicles are projected to outperform and underprice traditional gas-powered vehicles within a decade. It’s critical that as Maryland takes steps to upgrade its electric grid and infrastructure, it does so with its eyes on a future where electrified transportation is the norm.

States across the country and nations around the world are taking steps to modernize their electric grids to prepare for the global transition to clean, efficient energy. It’s in Maryland’s best interest for our PSC to follow suit. By laying the groundwork for a responsive, secure, efficient and resilient electric grid that leverages advanced systems and utilizes a diverse array of clean energy resources, Maryland can strengthen its economy while promoting a stronger, safer America.

Cheryl Rosenblum (rosenblum@cna.org) is the executive director of the CNA Military Advisory Board. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CNA or any of its sponsors.

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