Guest Commentary: Md. Goal Should be 100% Renewable Energy by 2035
By Shane Robinson
Prior to the 2016 election, USA Today and Rock the Vote polled voters between 18 and 34. Eighty percent of those polled said they wanted to see the U.S. running on mostly clean energy by 2030. And why shouldn’t they?
Everyone born after February 1985 has lived through 395 straight months of above-average temperatures. For these young people, their entire lives have been defined by global warming.
As the climate disasters of 2017 made clear, the time for half-measures has passed. From wildfires in California to hurricanes in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast, this past year has made clear to me the urgent need for Maryland to take the lead in addressing the worsening climate crisis.
While some of my colleagues in the General Assembly are supporting legislation to increase our state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030, the threat of climate change is too severe for this approach.
As Bill McKibben wrote last year in Rolling Stone, when it comes to climate, “winning slowly is the same as losing.”
That’s why I’m introducing a bill in Annapolis that would move Maryland to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2035. This is an aggressive goal, but it’s also achievable, and anything less is too little, too late.
Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard is based on the use of renewable energy credits, or RECs. These are essentially paper credits that utility companies can buy while still selling electricity to ratepayers from coal, nuclear or municipal incineration.
Maryland ratepayers subsidized dirty energy, like trash burning and black liquor, to the tune of $65 million in 2015. My bill would do away with the REC system, and instead require utilities to buy actual electricity from only clean sources: solar, wind, ocean tidal, and some small hydroelectricity.
With a combination of new instate generation and imports of clean energy from surrounding states, Maryland can make this transition faster than you might think.
California installed more than 5,000 megawatts of solar in 2016, up from basically nothing in 2010.
I’m proposing that Maryland install 400 megawatts per year initially, rising to 500 megawatts in a few years and to about 800 megawatts in about eight years. When adjusted for population, the requirements in this bill are a slower rate of growth than those already achieved in California.
In addition, the offshore wind targets in the bill for the mid-2020s are less ambitious than those already set by law in Massachusetts, but are fit to scale with Maryland’s population and available shoreline. Other states already have achieved what we are proposing. There are no technical reasons why Maryland cannot enact this 100 percent clean renewable electricity system by 2035.
Under my proposal Maryland would build a robust clean energy industry. The bill creates two new programs to incentivize solar and offshore wind development in Maryland. One program provides rebates for new solar installations, with the rebate rate declining as more solar capacity is installed.
The other program requires Maryland utilities to enter into long-term contracts with offshore wind providers. Between direct construction and supply chain jobs in both the solar and wind industries, we anticipate that this bill would create over 10,000 new jobs in Maryland by 2035.
Leading the nation in combating climate change isn’t the only reason why moving to 100 percent clean renewables is right for Maryland. Our reliance on fossil fuels and other combustion-based energy, like municipal waste incineration, is literally making people sick.
In Baltimore City, 20 percent of children younger than 18 suffer from asthma. New research shows that warming temperatures associated with climate change will exacerbate respiratory illnesses, and increase the burden already felt by low-income and communities of color.
In addition to moving Maryland away from fossil fuels and other dirty energy, my bill will protect low-income households by capping electricity bills at no more than 6 percent of annual household income.
In the fight against climate change, Maryland has a lot to lose. But we also have a lot to gain. We could lose through rising sea levels, disrupted growing season and even higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Or, we could gain low-cost, clean energy for everyone while creating thousands of jobs in a new clean energy economy.
These are the options on the table.
Now, we have a choice to make. I’m choosing 100 percent clean energy and hope that the people of Maryland, along with my colleagues in the legislature, unite behind this vision for a healthier and safer state.
Shane Robinson, a Democrat, is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Montgomery County’s District 39.