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After veto override, renewable energy and electricity bills on the rise in Maryland  

Credit:  By Pamela Wood | The Baltimore Sun | February 2, 2017 | www.baltimoresun.com ~~

State lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill to increase the use of renewable energy in the state.

The legislation, which will require utility companies in Maryland to buy more energy from sources such as wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams, became law when the Democratic-controlled General Assembly voted to override the Republican governor.

Hogan and GOP lawmakers objected to the cost to consumers. The requirement is expected to make electricity more expensive, but it’s not clear by how much.

Democrats argued that the requirement will boost the renewable energy industry, create high-paying jobs, reduce air pollution and combat climate change at a small cost to consumers.

“There’s an economic argument, we’ve got an environmental argument, and then there are some health benefits as well,” said Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat. “All three of these put together far, far exceed whatever possible small incremental residential rate impacts we have.”

Republicans said any increase in electricity prices amounts to a tax that many Marylanders can’t afford.

Sen. Ed Reilly said businesses, too, will have higher electricity bills, a cost they will pass on to customers.

“I’m convinced this increase in costs is a hidden tax,” the Anne Arundel Republican said.

The law requires that one-quarter of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. That’s more energy, and sooner, than the prior requirement of 20 percent by 2022.

Nonpartisan legislative analysts estimated it might raise residential electricity bills by 48 cents to $1.45 per month.

Hogan, his Change Maryland organization and the Maryland Republican Party launched an aggressive campaign to sustain the veto.

The governor derided the new renewable energy requirement as a “sunshine and wind tax,” and his campaign paid for a website that enabled Marylanders to send emails asking lawmakers to stop it.

Republican senators delayed the override attempt for a week in hopes of gaining time to pick off Democratic votes.

Republicans targeted Democratic senators in conservative-leaning districts. Sen. Ron Young pointed to a Facebook post by the Maryland Republican Party that said: “Senator Young wants to raise your utility bill. Tell him no more taxes!”

The Frederick Democrat said his office was deluged with calls all morning from people urging him to support the governor’s position. He voted with his party to override the veto.

In the Senate, all 32 Democrats voted to override, more than the 29 needed. In the House of Delegates on Tuesday, 88 Democrats voted for the override, more than the 85 needed.

Del. Ned Carey of Anne Arundel County was the only Democrat to support the governor’s veto.

After the vote, Hogan posted a list of the senators who voted for the override on his Facebook page and warned that the new requirement will “place yet another burden on ratepayers and taxpayers.”

“It will be an additional charge on your energy bill each month to pay for overly expensive solar and wind energy credits, the majority of which are created by companies outside of Maryland,” the governor wrote.

A spokeswoman for the governor said Hogan supports “sensible efforts,” including the old standards, to promote renewable energy. The old standards were set in 2004.

“Unfortunately, our hard-working citizens will now be forced to foot the bill for an unnecessary addition to the program that already exists and one that subsidizes out-of-state companies,” spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said.

Energy companies will not be required to generate their own renewable power. They buy renewable energy credits from power producers.

Republicans noted that many of those credits go to renewable energy sources outside of Maryland – and some such as incinerating trash and burning a paper byproduct known as “black liquor” – are not considered clean energy.

Efforts to remove such sources from the renewable-energy program have failed in the past, said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Southern Maryland Democrat who chairs the committee that handles energy-related bills.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said internal party politics are driving Republicans to oppose all tax, fee and cost increases, “no matter how good the purpose is.”

“We’re talking about 58 cents a month,” Miller said. “Fifty-eight cents a month for clean energy, but apparently the Republican brand is ‘no fee increase of any kind, no tax increase of any kind.'”

Environmentalists and climate change activists quickly hailed the override.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the veto override is especially important because President Donald J. Trump has questioned climate change science and opposed a global agreement to curb greenhouse gases.

“Governor Larry Hogan thought he could confuse state voters by siding with polluters over good-paying solar and wind jobs,” Tidwell said. “Today, the people of Maryland have spoken and Hogan should listen.”

Democratic lawmakers have reversed Hogan’s vetoes of bills that allow felons to vote as soon as they leave prison, reduce possession of marijuana paraphernalia to a civil offense, change the rules for when police can seize property and money during investigations, allocate $2 million for the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, change how certain hotel taxes are collected, require the administration to rank transportation projects that get state funding and change the composition of the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Commission.

Source:  By Pamela Wood | The Baltimore Sun | February 2, 2017 | www.baltimoresun.com

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