Maryland Gov. Hogan promotes energy plan, including nuclear power to reach goals for renewable sources

Source: By Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun • Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks with the press after touring the Combined Heat and Power system at the University of Maryland Baltimore-Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie.
Gov. Larry Hogan speaks with the press after touring the Combined Heat and Power system at the University of Maryland Baltimore-Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie. (Amy Davis)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan continued his rollout of 2020 priorities Tuesday, offering more details of a previously announced clean energy plan, including a push to add nuclear energy to the ways the state can achieve goals for getting electricity from renewable sources.

The Republican governor toured a power plant at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie before touting his proposal: the Clean and Renewable Energy Standard, or “CARES.”

Hogan first announced his plan in May, when he said his bill would be an improvement over a Clean Energy Jobs Act passed by the Democrat-led legislature that the governor allowed to become law without his signature.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act requires that, by 2030, the state get 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and — controversially — trash incineration. It also requires the state to work on a plan to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2040. The change is expected to make Marylanders’ electricity bills more expensive — an estimated $1.50 per month for the typical residential customer, according to nonpartisan legislative analysts.

Hogan’s CARES bill would maintain the renewable energy requirements of 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2040.

It would stop allowing renewable energy incentives for burning trash or a papermaking byproduct called “black liquor” to generate electricity, which has long irked many environmentalists.

More controversially, though, Hogan’s plan brings nuclear power into the fold of renewable energy.

“It’s one of the ways you can get to 100%. It’s an all-of-the-above approach,” Hogan said.

While nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change, environmentalists have raised questions about how to safely dispose of nuclear waste, as well as concerns about the safety of such reactors.

Hogan also said his bill would address what he said is a flaw in the state’s existing renewable energy program: The state’s credits can be used to subsidize electricity production — and therefore support jobs — in other states.

Hogan did not explain how his bill would accomplish that goal, but Maryland Department of the Environment staff later explained it would create an additional class of clean energy credits that only Maryland-based electricity production could receive.

These new Clean Energy Resource Credits would be available only to facilities in Maryland that generate electricity through new nuclear power, combined heat and power, natural gas or burning biomass, such as wood or manure. Natural gas and biomass plants would have to use technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions to be eligible.

Wind and solar projects would remain eligible for the state’s existing renewable energy credits but not the new credits.

Sen. Brian Feldman, one of the legislature’s leaders on clean energy, said he’s looking forward to Hogan fleshing out more details of the proposal. Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the governor vetoed another clean energy bill three years ago and didn’t offer feedback on last session’s Clean Energy Jobs Act until the legislature already had approved it.

“I welcome the fact that the governor now, in Year Six, is in the game on an important topic,” Feldman said. “I think it’s important to have the governor involved on this topic, albeit a little late.”

Hogan took office in 2015 and is now in his second, four-year term.

Feldman said lawmakers already are working on some of the issues flagged by Hogan, such as eliminating subsidies for black liquor and burning trash. Perhaps legislators and Hogan can find common ground, he said.

“What I hope is that in the aftermath of the 2019 Clean Energy Jobs Act, this is not simply a PR effort, and not a press release followed by a bill in January with no follow-through,” he said.

Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said the new credits would prop up forms of energy that are not clean and rely on technology that isn’t yet viable, such as capturing carbon emissions.

“To claim that it’s 100% clean while naming those technologies and being vague about those details is problematic,” Tulkin said. “The governor has not given us any information yet to lead us to believe this plan is credible.”

Steven Hershkowitz, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said Hogan’s bill is flawed by counting nuclear power and natural gas as renewable energy.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is especially concerned about natural gas that comes from a drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Though the practice is banned in Maryland, fracked natural gas flows into the state via pipelines. The fracking process generates methane, a greenhouse gas, and there is potential for leakage in the transport process, Hershkowitz said.

“Any plan that relies on fracked gas to create electricity is not clean,” he said.

And if Hogan wants to put more money into renewable energy credits, as this plan appears to do, the money would be better spent on wind power and solar power projects, which offer “more bang for the buck,” Hershkowitz said.

The next 90-day General Assembly session opens Jan. 8, and Hogan has been rolling out his legislative proposals the past few weeks.

He previously said he would sponsor a bill that would pay for more school construction projects by issuing bonds that would be paid off using a portion of casino revenues dedicated to education — similar to a plan Democrats have endorsed. Hogan also is promoting a new program for turning around low-rated public schools that would designate them as “innovation schools” and give them flexibility to develop an improvement plan, under close oversight.