Warning that Marylanders face rising electricity costs, rolling blackouts and environmental havoc if nothing is done, the O’Malley administration urged lawmakers yesterday to act on its bills aimed at encouraging energy conservation and producing cleaner power.
“The goal at the end of the day is affordable, reliable, clean energy,” said Malcolm D. Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration. He and other officials said the governor’s legislative initiatives “attempt to keep our bills down and our lights on” while also reducing the threat of global warming.
While many legislators voiced support, some said they were leery of asking consumers upset about soaring utility bills to pay a little more for less-polluting power or more efficient light bulbs and appliances – even if those purchases save them money over time.
“It seems to me that the weight of the governor’s program is on the backs of the consumers,” said Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat.
One bill aims to reduce energy consumption in the state 15 percent by 2015 by requiring utilities to offer consumers financial incentives to reduce energy use. Another would allow the state to offer more low-interest loans, rebates and other incentives for energy-efficient measures.
A third measure would more than double the amount of renewable energy that Maryland utilities are required to purchase for sale to their customers, rising to 20 percent by 2022.
Officials reminded lawmakers reviewing the bills in both the House Economic Matters and Senate Finance committees that the state’s energy needs are outstripping its supply, with one study warning of rolling blackouts by 2011 if nothing changes.
Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson noted that Maryland, with its lengthy coastline, is especially threatened by rising sea levels from global warming – with emissions from energy use a significant contributor to the threat.
Officials said investing in energy efficiency would save consumers money. Long-lasting fluorescent light bulbs, for instance, save $30 or more over their lifetime, according to federal estimates.
The administration’s proposals drew praise from many environmental and consumer groups, as well as from companies selling energy-efficient technology or services. Some legislators even questioned whether the bills went far enough.
But business and industry representatives homed in on the likely up-front costs to curb energy demand or use cleaner sources, such as wind or solar power. “It’s difficult for me to go back to my constituents and say by 2022 we’ll be doing well,” said Burns. “By 2022, half my constituents are going to be dead.”
“There are no miracles,” replied Paula Carmody, the people’s counsel, who represents consumer interests before the Public Service Commission. “It’s not as if these high prices are going to go away. The cost of generation and transmission will continue to drive these prices farther and farther up.”
Utilities would be required under the legislation to offer incentives to their customers to curb electricity use, but the bill also authorizes the companies to raise their rates slightly to make up for the reduced sales.
The state already plans to reduce greenhouse gases by requiring utilities to buy “allowances” for emissions from their fossil-fuel plants; the money raised by auctioning those emission rights is expected to generate $80 million to $140 million a year. One of the bills heard yesterday would channel the revenues into a fund to pay for rebates, loans and other incentives to reduce consumption.
The requirement for utilities to sell more renewable power also could boost costs to consumers by up to 1 percent, a representative of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado testified.
By Timothy B. Wheeler | Sun reporter
Sun reporter Laura Smitherman contributed to this article.
13 February 2008
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