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From the Desk of State Delegate Kelly Schultz

(4/1) One of the most rewarding aspects of my job in Annapolis has been the educational experience of working on energy and utility issues. Over the past 4 years, my committee has heard bills regarding a variety of renewable energy options. We have passed very few bills over this term in hopes of allowing the market to determine the success of the initiatives included in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

The RPS was set up in 2004 after the General Assembly passed legislation. Those standards state that Maryland’s energy portfolio would consist of 20% renewable sources by 2022. Tier 1 approved energy generating sources would receive Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) for the creation of clean energy. The approved Tier 1 list includes solar (a variety of options), wind, biomass, landfill gas, hydroelectric, geothermal (electric and heat), municipal solid waste, anaerobic digestion, and a variety of oceanic options. In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed the bill that added Offshore Wind to the list of sources.

Many of the bills that we heard have been attempts to modify the approved list of sources. It has been become quite obvious that this issue is a very sensitive topic. One example from the past two sessions is the proposal to remove biomass from the list of sources. This became one of the fiercest battles between two very distinct groups – the union/business community and the environmental community. The discussion related to the closing of a biomass plant in Cumberland, MD which would have cost jobs but would have removed a ‘dirty’ source from the Tier 1 list. There was a great division among the members, but the bill ultimately failed both years.

I voted NO on the bill for a few reasons. First, Allegany County cannot afford to lose any jobs. But, in addition to that, I believe it sets a precedent of removing certain sources from Tier 1. As policy makers, we need to be able to review all of our options. The RPS was set up in 2004 to allow for the inclusion of a variety of sources, and I believe that the legislators had set some standards and timetables that would be measured over the course of the next several years. Biomass continues to be one of the highest producing renewable in our portfolio, and it is not prudent to remove it at this time.

Currently, Maryland claims that 7.9% of our overall energy consumption comes from renewable energy. We have a long way to go to get to 20% as mandated by law, but we are getting closer. The 2022 benchmark would be the optimal time to readdress the sources and the possibility of the increase in percentages. There is no immediate need to alter the course unless and until we have proven that we are capable of meeting our current goals. (As a side note, there was a bill in this year that proposed to increase the percentage from 20% to 40% by 2022…..needless to say, it didn’t go very far).

I applaud my committee members for being very deliberate in their approach to our energy consumption. Throughout my term, I have learned that there are many issues that need to be addressed when reviewing what appears to be a very simple request. There is no doubt that there is an environmental benefit to clean energy. However, one of the most important factors is the cost to the rate payer. Renewable energy is more expensive than ‘traditional’ sources. One of my key objections to any additional mandates is the overall cost. In many cases, the cost to the rate payer can be in addition to the cost to all tax payers due to a subsidy or capital project funding. The overall benefit needs to outweigh the negatives.

As we look forward to the next few years, I can guarantee that similar questions will arise about the Tier 1 sources. It is quite possible that we continue to see opposition to many of our sources including biomass and waste to energy. It will be interesting to watch the progression of this movement as Frederick County pursues the waste to energy plant. If that is removed from Tier 1, Frederick County will not receive the RECs, which theoretically would put that project in jeopardy. Waste to energy plants currently exist in a number of counties across the state which provide extra revenues that would not be easily replaced. Counties would be faced with some very difficult questions about waste should that occur.

My goal is to protect our county and the taxpayers. It has become obvious that the issue of energy is a topic of major importance and I am honored to have the ability to continue to learn as a policy maker. It does not appear that the need for energy will decrease anytime soon, thus ensuring that we develop the best policies that have the highest benefit with the least cost will be challenging, but also very rewarding.