ANNAPOLIS — Businessmen, religious leaders and environmentalists pushed for the expansion of clean energy in Maryland at the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by state Senator Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, would increase the use of renewable energy to power the state. Known as the 2015 Maryland Clean Energy Advancement Act, it would require 25 percent of Maryland’s energy to come from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power, by 2020.
The bill amends the state’s renewable energy commitment outlined in former Gov. Robert “Bob” Ehrlich’s 2004 Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, which mandate 20 percent renewable energy use throughout the state by 2022.
Feldman said the new rules would be in line with a 2012 law mandating a 25 percent statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, while spurring job creation and helping improve the economy.
“We have a lot of economic upside potential with renewable energy in the state,” including a financial boost from more investment in solar and wind energy, Feldman said. “People are concerned about our economy, and this is a place where we can be a national leader.”
The state currently draws 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources, mandated by Ehrlich’s law. Other states, including California and Minnesota, have higher renewable energy portfolio standards than the current Maryland law requires, Feldman said, and this bill would keep Maryland in line with the rest of the country.
Main objections to the bill during the hearing concerned the cost to low-income Marylanders of mandating clean energy sources.
If passed, monthly energy bills across the state of Maryland would see a $0.52 increase (in 2014 dollars) by 2020, according to a study conducted by Sustainable Energy Advantage LLC, an independent renewable energy consulting and advisory firm.
“(W)e need clean energy, (but) we need to not have people at the bottom of the food chain who can barely pay their bills — and who the rest of us have to assist…they just can’t afford it,” said state Senator Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County.
Tom Dennison, spokesman for the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, said Tuesday that while he respected Feldman’s bill, it does not address all of the costs involved.
“Whether it’s 52 cents per month or whatever, this is on top of the existing subsidy on renewable energy,” Dennison said. He said he was concerned that the bill would pose too many additional costs for either his company or its customers.
Supporters of the bill said opponents refuse to take into account all the economic, environmental and health costs associated with continued use of fossil fuels, and how the benefits provided through increased clean energy use outweigh the increasing costs of energy bills.
“I think you need to have a bigger picture view of the costs, because the costs of fossil fuels are more than what we assume from our bill,” said Tom Landers, policy director for the Climate Change Action Network in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“We are heartsick about how our energy use is hurting our neighbors, here at home and around the world,” said the Rev. Wolfgang Herz-Lane, Lutheran bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod. Herz-Lane joined 230 other religious leaders in signing a letter showing support for the bill “to restore the health of creation.”
Delegate William Frick, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring an identical bill in the House of Delegates. He said in the House Economic Matters committee meeting on Friday that now is the right time politically to take this action, as 69 percent of Marylanders support doubling the renewable portfolio standard.