Maryland 50% RPS bill doubles offshore wind target, expands solar-carve out

Source: By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive • Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2019

As more states develop legislation to increase their renewable portfolio standards, local economies often take center stage.

For many lawmakers, the promise of lower electricity bills and more local jobs are key motivators for RPS standards, in addition to climate and other environmental concerns. That means efforts to expand these policies often focus on extending assistance to specific industries.

Labor concerns were likely what kept the clause on waste combustion in the legislative language, Josh Tulkin, Director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, told Utility Dive. The state has two large waste incinerators and lawmakers were concerned that if credits were removed from those facilities, they could also be removed from other combustion energies, such as black liquor and landfill gas, which have a lot of associated union jobs.

Waste-to-energy was first classified as Tier 1 in 2003, and has since been a point of debate for legislators on both sides of the aisle, said Tulkin.

“Ultimately, I think many people, including the Sierra Club, try to send [the conversation] back on the central point that the RPS is supposed to be about incentivizing new clean energy, not subsidizing existing sources of energy, particularly combustion sources,” he said.

During this year’s legislative session, the Senate supported the removal of that language, but the House pushed back on it, ultimately leading to the Senate deciding to keep that classification in, to appease both chambers.

But at the end of the day, the bill is still a win for clean energy in Maryland, said Tulkin,

“What was interesting was that in getting all the attention, not as much attention was actually paid to what was a really ambitious bill,” he said.

Coal and nuclear plants currently make up approximately 70% of the state’s electric generation, along with a significant portion of imported natural gas, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA). Renewable energy makes up about 12.5% of the state’s electricity, dominated by hydroelectric power. Solar makes up almost 3%, as prices have fallen 47% over the past five years, and biomass generates about 1.6% of the state’s electricity.

Maryland’s offshore wind potential was recognized several years ago by the state. In 2013, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, signed the Offshore Wind Energy Act, providing $1.7 billion in subsidies and aiming for the resource to make up 2.5% of the state’s total renewables production, or approximately 480 MW by 2020. Currently, the state has two projects totaling 368 MW in the pipeline, approved in 2017.

The 50% RPS bill had support from both labor groups and environmentalists, said Tulkin. It also includes provisions on job training and apprenticeships, and provides $7 billion in funding for small and minority-owned businesses in the clean energy industry.

In 2016, current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, vetoed legislation that would bring the state’s RPS from 20% to 25% by 2020, citing concerns over tax increases, but Democrats overrode the veto. Both chambers currently have a Democratic majority.