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At Maryland climate bill hearing, gas companies and others take issue with requirements for newly constructed buildings

Representatives of gas and electric companies, unionized gas fitters and commercial real estate groups were among those who took to Annapolis Tuesday to say that the climate change legislation proposed by state lawmakers goes “too far, too fast.”

During a hearing for the Maryland Senate’s Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022, the groups mainly took issue with provisions that would require newly constructed buildings to handle all water and space heating demands without the use of fossil fuels starting in 2023 and require preexisting buildings over 25,000 square feet to reduce their emissions steadily over time.

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The bill, and its similar counterparts in the House of Delegates, has robust support from a number of environmental and racial justice groups, who rallied on the State House steps Tuesday morning. In calling for a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2030 — and net-zero emissions by 2045 — the bill would place Maryland among the states with the most ambitious climate laws. The Biden administration has proposed a target of net-zero emissions economywide by 2050, in alignment with the Paris Agreement.

The House of Delegates legislation has slight differences — including a two-year delay on the 60% deadline — but still calls for net-zero emissions statewide by 2045, and for new commercial and residential buildings to avoid using fossil fuels for heating.

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Representatives from a number of utility companies in the state, along with small suppliers of heating oil and other fuels, warned Tuesday that provisions in the Senate bill would increase the demand on the state’s electric grid — and hurt their bottom line.

During the hearing, Derrick Dickens, senior vice president and chief operating officer for BGE, said that several new substations and feeders could be required as a result of the increased building electrification called for in the bill. He said the company needs more time to assess the impacts of the bill, and to plan accordingly.

“We also support beneficial electrification, but rolled out under a sensible and phased-in approach of voluntary incentives versus moving immediately to outright bans,” said Mark Case, BGE’s vice president of regulatory policy and strategy. Fuels like natural gas should be “part of the mix” as the state works to reduce emissions, Case said.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, the sponsor of the bill, bristled at that.

“The ‘G’ in BGE. What does that stand for?” Pinsky said. “I’m trying to calculate if your position is based on your bottom line and profits and trying to keep your gas flowing, or it’s trying to join us in solving the solutions as we address climate change.”

At the beginning of the hearing, Pinsky did admit his bill “pushes the envelope,” adding he was open to suggestions on some of its more ambitious proposals.

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Steve Stuck, president of Oakland Oil & Propane, called the bill “dangerous.” He said many of his customers in Western Maryland rely on fossil fuels to heat their homes when power goes out, including during severe snowstorms. While the bill wouldn’t take those fuels away from homeowners, it would disallow their use for heating in future construction.

“We’re a family business, and this bill has a chance of really destroying family businesses,” he said.

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Craig Mathies, president of the Somerset County Board of Commissioners, worried that the bill’s focus on electrifying buildings new and old would nullify the county’s yearslong effort to construct a natural gas pipeline that’d bring the fuel to places like the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The county, which is the state’s poorest, needs to attract businesses, and offering natural gas helps with that pursuit, Mathies said.

Aaron Tomarchio, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Tradepoint Atlantic, the growing industrial hub in Sparrows Point that will help assemble wind turbines bound for the coast of Ocean City, shared similar concerns.

“The natural gas capacity at Tradepoint Atlantic has attracted many of the businesses that we are seeing here today,” Tomarchio said. He suggested an exemption for manufacturers be added to the bill.

Representatives of large building owners, meanwhile, worried that the cost of retrofitting buildings with more energy efficient technology could be substantial, and — in the case of residential buildings — could be passed on to tenants.

“The cost is enormous,” said Michael Powell, who was representing NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, and serves as a chairperson of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change Mitigation Working Group. “It doesn’t take an architect to think that if you have a 15 or 20-story building and it’s heated by a boiler in the basement and radiators and hot water that converting all of that to electricity for heating is going to be difficult, and that we have to provide the incentives to do that.”


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