Hogan, a GOP climate advocate, faces clean energy test

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2019

Larry Hogan is a rare breed of Republican.

The Maryland governor, who is rumored to be considering a primary challenge to President Trump, has talked up his state’s efforts to combat climate change at conferences and in newspaper op-eds.

Under Hogan’s leadership, Maryland has passed legislation to cut greenhouse gases and pushed to expand the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program, and eliminate super pollutants used in air conditioners and refrigerators (Climatewire, Jan. 12, 2018).

Now his green credentials could be tested.

In a flurry of action before the legislative session ended Monday, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill to boost the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50% by 2030. In 2016, Hogan vetoed a bill to update the state’s renewable portfolio standard. Lawmakers eventually overrode him, and they could do so again. This year’s “Clean Energy Jobs Act” passed with a veto-proof margin.

“We also know the governor has been making statements about the need for state-led climate action, and this is an opportunity for him,” said David Smedick, a policy representative at the Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter. “This is a way to put that op-ed into action by signing this into law this year.”

Hogan is playing his cards close to the chest for the time being. A spokeswoman said he was reviewing the bill.

The legislation is likely to be popular in deep blue Maryland, said Todd Eberly, a professor who tracks state politics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The question is whether Hogan sees the cost increases associated with the bill as a tax hike.

The Department of Legislative Services estimated that the average resident’s monthly electric bill would increase $2-$6 per month as a result of the legislation. Most Marylanders will likely view that as a small price to pay for clean energy, but the governor ran on a platform opposing fee and tax increases, Eberly said.

He downplayed the likelihood of a Hogan presidential run. If U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller investigation is accurate, the governor does not have much of an opening versus Trump, Eberly said. Instead, Hogan could turn his attention to running for the Senate. Approval of the “Clean Energy Jobs Act” would be a boon in that contest.

“His best political option is to sign it, and then over subsequent sessions push for some reforms,” Eberly said.

The bill looked dead earlier this year, with state lawmakers in the House and Senate deadlocked over whether to remove trash incinerators from the list of energy sources that qualify for renewable energy credits. They ultimately agreed to keep the subsidies for those sources, to the chagrin of environmentalists.

The bill nevertheless has the potential to transform Maryland’s power sector. The state is already on the verge of meeting its current renewable portfolio standard, which calls for 20% of electricity to be derived from clean sources by 2020.

Much of that power comes from out-of-state sources like Illinois wind, Pennsylvania hydro and landfill gas in Ohio, according to state regulators. Solar today accounts for almost 3% of the state’s energy supplies.

This year’s legislation would increase the carve-out for solar generation from 2.5% to more than 14% in 2028. It also calls for Maryland to acquire 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind. State regulators approved two offshore wind projects with a combined capacity of 368 MW in 2017. The developer of the first project expects the facility to begin operating next year, though it has faced local opposition. The second is projected to come online in 2022.