ANNAPOLIS – Environmentally conscious consumers and utility companies not only can cut pollution when they buy electric cars, solar powered equipment or generate energy from poultry litter, but soon they might save a little cash.
Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, has proposed legislation to offer tax credits to businesses and individuals who invest in energy efficient technology.
The Maryland Energy Efficient Technology Tax Act, sponsored by 16 delegates, would provide consumers a state tax credit of up to $2,000 for each electric car or energy efficient home bought during the tax year; up to $1,000 for energy-saving equipment; and, for utility companies, about eight-tenths of a cent for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated by renewable resources, including chicken manure.
“The purpose of the tax credit is to create an economic device that is environmentally sound,” said Taylor.
The bill also is designed to encourage utility companies to develop power plants that use renewable resources such as wind, forest and agricultural refuse or poultry litter to produce power instead of petroleum products, he said.
“This bill is the carrot on the stick as far as future conservation efforts,” said Delegate George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It makes all the sense in the world.”
With the recent deregulation of electric utilities, the bill comes at a time when energy choices will start to proliferate, said Ed Ossan, Maryland representative for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This bill gives a little bit of a head start for renewable energy to be more competitive in what will become a more competitive electricity industry,” he said.
Maryland’s Eastern Shore produces about 400,000 tons of poultry manure each year. Farmers’ practice of spreading the fertilizing waste onto crops produced toxic runoff blamed in the 1997 outbreak of the fish-killing microorganism Pfiesteria piscicida around the Chesapeake Bay. The state has been studying power generation as a waste-disposal alternative.
Conectiv, a Delaware-based power company, was considering converting its oil-based power plant in Vienna, Md., to burn poultry litter, until they sold the plant to NRG Energy Inc., a power company based in Minneapolis.
Neither Conectiv nor NRG Energy would comment on the bill.
The legislation also would subsidize an array of products, including battery-like fuel cells, natural gas heat pumps and energy-saving air conditioners, worth from $125 to $1,000 in tax credits.
The bill was introduced Jan. 12, a day before the U.S. Public Interest Research Group rated Maryland second worst in the nation for the number of smog readings exceeding federal standards last year. The smog forms when nitrogen oxides from burning fossil fuels in cars and power plants combine with sunlight.
Cost has stopped consumers from buying into energy efficient products, the bill’s supporters say.
“The cost of installing and buying these things is significant,” said Delegate Kenneth C. Montague Jr., D-Baltimore, another sponsor of Taylor’s bill. “But this bill…makes it more economically feasible to either enhance or replace” polluting equipment.
Renewable resource power plants, electric cars and energy-saving fuel cells that run on a photochemical process rather than petroleum combustion, are on the cutting edge of technology and are still relatively expensive.
For instance, the Ford Ranger, Ford’s only electric vehicle on the market, costs $32,000, about three times the cost of its gasoline-powered counterpart, said a Ford spokesman.
The bill’s sponsors hope the tax credits will catalyze consumer demand for energy-efficient products and, as a result, bring down prices.
“Automobile manufacturers and other industries tend to parcel out things very slowly,” said bill-supporter Delegate Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George’s. “But if the public speaks with a loud voice, then the businesses will respond.”
Environmentalists say consumers on the frontier will pave the way for the long-term survival of environmentally friendly products.
These “early adapters boost sales of new technology, speed up commercialization and help lower the cost,” said Osann. “Then after the tax- credit is over the products can stand on their own.”
But even if the products become cheaper, many people are hesitant to leave the familiar for the unknown.
“Nobody knows what to expect with new products,” said John K. Horowitz, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Maryland at College Park. Low-flow toilets were a flop, but automatic thermostats were a success, he said. If the tax-credit plan doesn’t include plans to educate consumers of their choices, Horowitz warned, “then the legislation just might end up wasting a lot of money” for the state. -30- CNS-1-27-00