Guest Commentary: Here’s How Maryland Can Support Solar
By Gary Skulnik
With the White House’s war on clean energy and the environment, Maryland needs to turn 2018 into the year we step up our commitment to a cleaner, greener future. The best way to do that is to adopt the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative as soon as possible.
The plan would increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from 25 percent clean energy by 2020 to 50 percent by 2030, including a substantial carve-out only for homegrown solar energy.
As envisioned, it would help fund clean energy entrepreneurship among women and minorities in Maryland. Finally, it would phase out trash incineration from the RPS, correcting a mistake that allowed this polluting energy source to get clean energy credits. The Maryland General Assembly is about to convene, and the Clean Energy Jobs Initiative will be one of the most important bills legislators consider.
The timing of passing a bill to support a 50 percent RPS is critical. The solar industry is under assault on a few fronts. President Trump is considering imposing a massive tariff on solar modules imported from China and other nations.
If this happens, it will send costs for new solar projects shooting skyward, costing jobs and investment while doing nothing to significantly increase our domestic solar manufacturing. Additionally, the federal investment tax credit, which has supported solar development, is due to ramp down in just a few years. That could push solar prices even higher.
Here in Maryland, the solar market has been hit by the collapse of the Solar Renewable Credits, the tool for incentivizing solar in the state. In some ways, it’s a good thing because it means we’ve built a lot of solar here. But if we want solar to continue to grow, we need to do more.
Supporting the continued growth of solar in Maryland brings a multitude of benefits to the state.
We currently have around 5,000 solar jobs, and enough solar to power 90,000 Maryland homes. Our previous solar policy has attracted investment in Maryland from across the country, with $2.3 billion going into solar development alone. The clean air benefits are obvious.
Unlike waste incineration or coal plants that spew toxins, which disproportionately impact lower and moderate income residents of Baltimore, solar produces absolutely no emissions. Solar also reduces our contribution to the greenhouse gases that cause dangerous climate change.
Perhaps because of these many benefits of local clean energy, support for the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative is diverse and widespread. Social justice groups, businesses, faith, labor and government leaders have joined the environmental community in endorsing the initiative.
From the NAACP Maryland State Conference, to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, to MOM’s Organic Market and my own company, Neighborhood Sun, hundreds of groups have signed on to the initiative.
It’s no wonder that a poll a few months back found 71 percent of Marylanders support expanding the percentage of electricity sources that come from renewable sources like wind or solar.
Neighborhood Sun will admittedly benefit from a higher solar requirement. But our growth in Maryland will mean stronger communities and more solar for people who can’t get rooftop installations. We plan to be a great example of a local start-up succeeding.
Maryland’s elected leaders should join the groundswell of support for cleaner, greener energy in the state. Increasing the use of solar and other locally produced clean renewable energy sources will bring new jobs, new investment and cleaner air. Most importantly, Maryland will continue to be on track to dramatically reduce our carbon pollution, something we owe to our children and future generations.
Gary Skulnik is the CEO and founder of community solar specialist Neighborhood Sun Benefit Corp. He can be reached at Gary@neighborhoodsun.solar.
The Clean Energy Jobs Now: Rally for Climate Action will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis.