Maryland Senate OKs extension of energy efficiency program

Senate OKs bill to extend EmPOWER Maryland program.

The state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill extending the EmPOWER Maryland energy efficiency program, following similar action in the House of Delegates last week.

Senators voted, 32-14, to extend the program, which was created in 2008 to require utility companies to reduce per capita electricity use by 10 percent by 2015. The law didn't require the program to continue past 2015, although the state's Public Service Commission has supported the program and asked utilities to lay out plans to invest more in energy efficiency.

The current bill would put the Public Service Commission's order into law to ensure that EmPOWER will continue.

Under the program, utility customers are charged a fee on their monthly bills. The money is used for efficient appliances, home energy checkups, rebates and bill credits for reducing electricity use.

The House of Delegates voted, 92-46, last week on its version of the bill. The approval of both chambers is needed to pass either bill.

Groups that advocate for the environment and against climate change hailed Senate passage. Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said in a statement that the bill would promote a "clean energy economy" in the state.

"The least expensive way to meet Maryland's future energy demand is to use less energy," Tidwell said.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released a study Tuesday that estimates that EmPOWER will lead to the creation of 68,000 jobs and reduce electricity consumption by 130 billion kilowatt hours over the next decade.

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