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Climate group hopes to double energy goal

A Maryland environmental group wants the state to double the minimum amount of energy that must be generated by wind and solar sources over the next decade.

Aerial photo of Cove Point facility.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said Tuesday that his group will back legislation he expects to be introduced in the General Assembly in January. The bill would increase the minimum goals set three years ago for solar and wind energy generation from 20 percent to 40 percent by 2025.

Tidwell shared the environmental advocacy group’s goal as the group released a poll showing that 80 percent of people surveyed want an extensive environmental assessment done before Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Resources Inc. builds a $3.8 billion liquefied natural gas exporting facility at Cove Point, near Lusby in Calvert County.

“We think [Cove Point] is a bad idea and the state is at a crossroads,” said Tidwell. “Instead, we’d like to see Maryland take a different path.”

Dominion is seeking federal and state approval to build a liquefied natural gas export facility on the site of its existing import facility. The plant would pipe in natural gas extracted from controversial shale fracturing operations in Pennsylvania and other areas, chill it to 260 degrees below zero — the temperature at which methane becomes liquefied¬ — and transport it by ship to India and Japan.

The company has already received federal permission to ship LNG to non-free trade agreement countries, and a judge in Calvert County Circuit Court ruled earlier this year that Dominion’s existing agreement with the Sierra Club allowed for the construction of a liquefaction and export facility at the Lusby site.

Tidwell said the LNG process will emit 3.3 million cubic feet of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually — a rate that would make the facility the fourth-largest generator of the greenhouse gas when compared to seven coal-burning power plants in the state.

“We believe, based on the data, that the worst thing you can do with methane gas, with fracked natural gas, is liquefy it and export it,” Tidwell said. “Our atmosphere is better off if India burns coal.”

Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Dominion, said Tuesday the exporting of liquefied natural gas to foreign markets is good for the economy and the environment.

“Natural gas emissions of carbon are one-half that of coal,” Norvelle said. “There is a ready market for an American product.”

A poll question paid for by the group found that four of five of the 819 people surveyed — all likely Maryland voters in 2014 — believe a comprehensive assessment should be performed before the plant is allowed to be built. The question was part of a survey conducted last month by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies.

Tidwell also said the plant, if approved, would lead to increased hydraulic-fracturing, or fracking, operations around the country, referring to the controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale rock formations. He added that his group is concerned that environmental assessments won’t be done to gauge the impact of the proposed facility.

Norvelle said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will perform an environmental assessment study on the proposed facility. This is in addition to a separate environmental impact study that was performed by the agency in 2006 on the existing import facility.

The approval process and the federal environmental review for the proposed processing plant in Southern Maryland are similar to those for other facilities built on existing brownfield sites around the country, Norvelle said.

“We will meet or exceed any environmental regulation at Cove Point,” Norvelle said.