ANNAPOLIS – Energy companies and environmental groups agreed on the benefits of clean, renewable energy, but when it came to defining what it was, everything fell apart.
As a result, the House Economic Matters Committee heard two similar bills Wednesday – both required energy producers to generate a certain amount of power from clean or renewable sources and created a clean energy credit trading program, but they differed on what technologies were acceptable.
The programs, known as a renewable portfolio standard, already exist in 11 states, including Texas where it was instituted by then-Gov. George W. Bush.
Wearing yellow pinwheels reminiscent of windmills, environmentalists, church and student groups backed a bill by Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, to require power companies to produce 7.5 percent of their power from renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal or animal waste by 2013.
Companies that failed to meet the requirement would have to pay a 2-cent surcharge for every kilowatt-hour of shortfall.
The public health benefits and less-polluted air promised by new energy technologies are a “great opportunity” said House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery.
“The goal should be to get as far away from burning things to create electric power as we possibly can,” Barve said.
But high prices for renewable energy would just drive power companies to pay the surcharge rather than investing in new technology, raising power prices for no benefit, said Michael Powell, a manufacturing industry lobbyist.
“Hubbard’s bill would put us out of business,” said Powell. “It would raise power prices so much manufacturers couldn’t afford to do business in the state of Maryland.”
Whether or not power producers could meet the goal is unclear, but would depend on the market, while producers would be obligated to go with the least expensive option, said Jay Mason, Allegheny Energy’s state governmental affairs manager.
The Maryland Energy Administration estimated that by 2011, consumers would pay about $18 more annually on their electric bills as a result of the program, although supporters argued it would act as a buffer against price spikes in fossil fuels.
The competing bill, sponsored by Delegate Carol Petzold, D-Montgomery, would count power generated from hydroelectric plants, solid-waste incineration and burning methane gas released from depleted coal mines towards the target.
Hubbard’s bill needs to “be a little more broad-minded” about its definition of renewable, and promote the use of what would otherwise be considered waste products, such as used tires, that would normally clutter landfills, said Jay Mason, a state governmental affairs manager with Allegheny Energy.
But supporting mature technologies like those runs counter to the goal of introducing new, cleaner technologies, said Michael Tidwell, Chesapeake Climate Action Network director.
“If Petzold’s bill were to pass, (power companies) would be so happy, because they just added value to . . . megawatts that already exist,” Tidwell said.
A rally on Lawyer’s Mall Wednesday morning drew more than 50 supporters and sponsors of Hubbard’s bill, including Barve, who said environmentalism is good for the economy.
“A clean environment creates more jobs than it might eliminate,” Barve said at the rally. “The future of environmental protection, in my view, is going to be creating jobs, creating wealth.”