Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County) speaks at a press conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in support of his bill, the Clean Energy Jobs Act, on March 5, 2019. Natalie Jones/Capital News Service

By Natalie Jones
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland legislators have high hopes for passing a bill to increase the state’s renewable energy standards to 50 percent by 2030 and setting a plan in action to raise the standard to 100 percent by 2040, along with seeking to increase jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The legislation aims to have the state getting 50 percent of its energy from Tier 1 renewable sources by 2030, including at least 14.5 percent derived from solar energy and another amount specified by the Public Service Commission derived from offshore wind energy, including at least 1,200 megawatts of Round 2 offshore wind projects.

Tier 1 renewable energy resources include solar, wind, biomass, anaerobic decomposition, geothermal and ocean, among others.

The measure—Senate Bill 516 and House Bill 1158—will also require legislators to conduct a study to assess the costs and benefits of increasing the renewable energy standard to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County). At a Senate committee hearing Tuesday, dozens of individuals from across the state came to testify for and against the bill, packing the room to capacity.

House Bill 115, originally sponsored by Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford County), who is censured and stripped of most legislative activity after using a racial slur in January, is expected to be presented by co-lead sponsor Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) at its hearing Friday.

The original Clean Energy Jobs Act—mandating a 25 percent renewable energy standard by 2020— as put into law in the 2017 General Assembly.

Modifications were introduced in 2018 as Senate Bill 732 and House Bill 1453, promoting increases in renewable energy mandates and job development, but the bills didn’t make it out of their respective committees.

According to a January Gonzales poll, 64 percent of Maryland voters think Gov. Larry Hogan (R) should support the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Activists have been pushing for Hogan’s support of the bill since the start of the General Assembly, organizing a rally featuring inflatable green surfboards calling for him to “ride the growing green climate wave” and support the bill.

In a December op-ed for The Washington Post, Hogan, along with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), wrote that where the federal government refuses to lead on matters of climate change, the state governments will step in.

Hogan has not publicly endorsed support for the Clean Energy Jobs Act but has acknowledged that it will take bipartisan effort to address and stop climate change.

Feldman said jobs in clean energy, such as solar installation and wind turbines, are the fastest growing sector in the state.

If the bill passes, nearly 20,000 new solar energy jobs and more than 5,500 offshore wind energy-reliant jobs would be created by 2030, Feldman said.

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, solar installers and wind turbine servicers are some of the fastest growing jobs in the country.

However, the state lost over 800 jobs in the solar energy sector last year, and they’re continuing to decline, said David Murray, executive director of the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association.

The decline in Maryland solar energy sector jobs is likely due to the Trump administration’s tariffs on solar and other industries, along with uncertainty about the state’s current renewable portfolio standard, which will expire in 2020, according to a press release from the Maryland Climate Coalition.

The state was an early leader in offshore wind technology after legislation passed in 2013. Since then, over 17,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy are being proposed along the East Coast, said Andrew Gohn, the eastern region director of the American Wind Energy Association.

The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 gave US Wind Inc. the approval to establish an offshore wind farm 17 miles from the shoreline, generating 250 megawatts of power, and it is expected to start construction this year.

Two additional offshore wind projects, submitted by Deepwater Wind LLC and US Wind Inc., were approved in 2017 and are expected to amount to an additional 368 megawatts of energy.

The projects are also estimated to create nearly 10,000 jobs and over $2 billion of economic activity in Maryland, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.

“This is Maryland’s opportunity to make sure we’re capturing some of that economic development, that job creation, that’s going to drive rejuvenation of our maritime infrastructure and investment in our coastal communities,” Gohn said.

While the bill wasn’t successful in passing in 2018, this year’s freshman legislators have Feldman more hopeful for the bill’s future, he said.

Feldman, along with other supporters, emphasized the urgency of passing the legislation in 2019 rather than waiting until 2020.

Federal renewable energy tax credits are scheduled to be reduced in 2020, so the economic difference between passing the bill this year versus next year would be tens of millions of dollars, said the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association.

However, opposition for the bill presents concerns about cost and compliance challenges from other power companies.

The average residential customer pays around $70 a year to comply with the current renewable portfolio standard, but if the bill passes, prices will go up by $7 to $11 per year, said Tom Dennison, the government and public affairs managing director for Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.

Costs with offshore wind energy projects are also a concern with the bill.

The offshore projects approved in 2017, located off of the coast of Ocean City, Maryland, are a more expensive power source compared to other resources in the region, said Glen Thomas, president of the PJM Power Providers Group.

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