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Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

MD lawmakers eye energy efficiency boost

Hogan administration had opposed raising goals

  • January 31, 2017
Trisha Miller of WISHROCK, an affordable housing developer, explains the benefits of Maryland's EmPOWER energy efficiency incentive program at a press conference in Baltimore.  (Timothy B. Wheeler)

Even as Maryland lawmakers face a decision on whether to try to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a renewable energy measure, another potential confrontation is brewing over how involved the state should be in helping consumers reduce electricity usage.

Leaders of the General Assembly have scheduled votes this week in the House and Senate on whether to override Hogan’s veto of legislation passed overwhelmingly last year that would increase Maryland’s commitment to getting power from renewable sources such as wind turbines and solar arrays.Lawmakers last year approved a bill that pledged the state to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 — up from the current goal of 20 percent by 2022. Hogan vetoed it, calling it a de facto tax on electric ratepayers because they might have to subsidize more expensive solar or wind power.

As that veto override vote looms, the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear a bill Tuesday that would continue a state program requiring electricity suppliers to offer their customers incentives to reduce their power consumption through increased energy efficiency. The bill would build on a 2015 decision by the state Public Service Commission to ratchet up goals set by an energy efficiency law first passed nine years ago.

The EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act of 2008 called for reducing per-capita energy consumption 10 percent and peak demand 15 percent by 2015, from a 2007 baseline. By the end of 2015, according to legislative analysts, the state’s electric companies had achieved 99 percent of the called-for reduction in per capita energy consumption and 100 percent of the peak demand goal.

Even so, the PSC two years ago found that “enormous potential still exists throughout the State for continued cost-effective investment in energy efficiency as a least-cost resource” and set new energy-efficiency goals through 2020.

Under the PSC’s 2015 order, electric companies must submit power-conservation plans to the PSC by Sept. 1 for 2018–2020, with further electricity savings to be targeted in future years. At that point, the PSC must decide whether to proceed with further efficiency efforts, which are paid for through a small surcharge added to each customer’s electric bill.

But the Hogan administration opposed the PSC’s 2015 decision to raise the energy-efficiency goal, saying it opposes having electricity consumers pay more, even if it provides them with opportunities to save in the long run. Since then, the Republican governor has appointed a majority of the commission, enough to reverse the earlier decision.

Green energy advocates fear the panel may backtrack on its commitment to ratepayer-subsidized efficiency efforts. Hoping to keep reducing energy demand, they are supporting two bills, SB184 and HB514, which codify the PSC’s 2015 order setting new efficiency goals.

A study released earlier this month by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that Maryland’s EmPOWER program had saved consumers more than $4 billion in utility bills between 2008 and 2015, yielding $1.81 in benefits for every dollar spent on financial incentives and technical assistance to add insulation, seal air leaks, and install more efficient lighting and appliances.

The EmPOWER program provided substantial environmental benefits as well, with estimated emissions reductions of nearly 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than 34 million pounds of nitrogen oxides and nearly 78 million pounds of sulfur dioxide.

“EmPOWER Maryland is an unqualified success story for the state,” said Brendon Baatz, manager of utilities policy for ACEEE, co-author of the study and a former PSC staffer.

Trisha Miller, sustainability director for WISHROCK, an affordable housing developer, said the EmPOWER program enabled her company to make energy upgrades at Windsor Valley apartments in suburban Owings Mills. Improvements in lighting, windows and water heaters, among other things, have lowered tenants’ utility bills as much as 20 percent a year, she said.

“Without EmPOWER,” she added, “the upfront costs of making these upgrades can be prohibitive in the affordable housing industry.”

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About Timothy B. Wheeler
Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Timothy B. Wheeler

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