ANNAPOLIS – Two Maryland lawmakers want to curb potential energy cost increases and future blackouts by encouraging energy conservation.
Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Brian K. McHale, D-Baltimore, held a briefing Thursday on a bill to create the Energy-Saving Investment Program. The program would distribute up to $50 million a year to homeowners and businesses that buy energy-efficient homes, buildings or appliances.
The fund wouldn’t come free to consumers, however. The program calls for customers to pay additional tenth of 1 cent per kilowatt-hour. That translates into about 75 cents per month on the average homeowner’s power bill.
“It’s less than a large of cup of coffee . . . and the benefits we will reap will be enormous,” Frosh said.
The energy efficiencies paid for with the fund would help reduce demand, thereby lowering energy prices, decreasing the risk of blackouts like in California and improving the environment, Frosh said.
“Our bill will help shave peak demand,” Frosh said.
California recently suffered an energy supply shortage – coupled with high demand and an ill-structured deregulation – that forced power companies to initiate rolling blackouts, primarily during the middle of the day when demand for energy is the highest.
In 1999, Maryland passed its own energy deregulation laws, which the Public Service Commission and the Maryland Energy Administration say won’t result in a California-style situation because Maryland has a sufficient energy supply.
There is still some concern about what will happen when price caps built into the legislation begin to be lifted from companies such as Pepco in 2004.
Both Frosh and McHale expect the bill to face heavy opposition, especially from the energy companies, which could lose money from reduced energy prices.
“We lost two years ago,” Frosh said. “So we’d be nuts if we didn’t think there would be a fight.”
Maryland had one of the nation’s best energy conservation programs until deregulation passed and companies began to phase the programs out, according to Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
The bill would reverse the trend in declining incentives for energy efficiency by again providing money for efficiency measures, one of the main reasons the Maryland Energy Administration supports it.
Some incentives include rebates for purchasing energy-efficient appliances. It also would provide technical assistance and funding for builders and contractors to build efficient homes and buildings.
The Maryland Energy Administration said the investment program will provide an alternative solution to Maryland’s rising energy demands, which increased 2 percent in both 1998 and 1999.
“You can’t just build power plants to deal with energy supply,” said Frederick H. Hoover Jr., director of the Maryland Energy Administration. “You have to deal with the demand side.”
Increased energy efficiency also could help the environment by reducing greenhouse gases produced by power plants, said Dan Shawhan of MaryPIRG.
“Cutting costs means cutting pollution,” Shawhan said, “and the adverse health effects it could have.”