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Bills seek fewer greenhouse gases, more renewable energy

COLLEGE PARK — With six years left until the state meets its self-imposed deadline for greenhouse gas reduction, projections show the state will miss its target without legislation to promote increased use of renewable energy sources.

Brandon Shores power plant

Raven Power’s Brandon Shores power plant in Anne Arundel County consists of two coal-burning units totaling 1,273 megawatts that were placed in service in 1984 and 1991. The company says about $900 million has been spent recently on environmental controls, which it said make Brandon Shores one of the cleanest coal?fired power facilities in the U.S. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

The state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, passed in 2009, requires a 25 percent reduction in 2006 greenhouse gas levels by 2020.

James McGarry, chief policy analyst for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the state has done a good job of reducing emissions but will need more from policy makers to meet the goal in time.

Under current state policies, the amount of greenhouse gases in 2020 will be about 16 percent lower than 2006 levels, according to state estimates based on a 2011 inventory of greenhouse gases.

Two bills in the General Assembly could help the state reach its target by 2020, McGarry said.

The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards bill, HB1149, would require electricity suppliers in the state to produce a high percentage of the state’s power from renewable energy sources. Under the bill, the percentage would rise at a faster rate every year, starting in 2017.

The bill would raise the target for 2017 from 13.1 percent from renewable sources to 15.65 percent. The end goal for 2025 would be 40 percent from renewable sources, with at least 4 percent of total energy use from solar power.

Prioritizing greenhouse gas reduction can have positive effects on the state economy, McGarry said. Local companies get business by upgrading energy efficiency in homes, and increased energy efficiency lowers energy costs for consumers. Also, the portfolio standard bill would create 3,700 jobs annually in construction and related supply chain fields, he said.

Greenhouse gas reduction is a process that reaches well beyond just this state, and McGarry said the state can be a national leader in demonstrating how policies can have visible impacts on emissions reduction.

“When you’re putting investments into a growing market segment, you’re going to get the jobs that are necessary to build that and you’re also positioning the state to be a leader in this field that’s the fastest-growing energy field in the country,” he said. “Somebody has to go out there and actually do that.”

But Ariel Lager, director of renewable energy services for Customized Energy Solutions Ltd., a Philadelphia-based energy services company, told the House Economic Matters committee last Thursday that the renewable portfolio standard would result in higher electricity costs for state residents and businesses.

Another bill, HB747, would remove subsidies going to facilities that produce black liquor, a byproduct of wood pulp production that can be burned to produce energy. In what McGarry called a loophole, black liquor is legally classified as a renewable resource — along with sources such as wind and solar power.

Del. John A. Olszewski Jr., D-Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor, said black liquor releases more carbon dioxide into the air than coal and is “super inefficient” as an energy source. In 2011, Olszewski said, 45 percent of renewable energy subsidies from the state went to black liquor facilities, all but one of which are not in the state.

The bill would redirect that subsidy money from those facilities to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. The one in-state black liquor facility, the Luke mill in Western Maryland, would continue to receive the subsidies it would normally.

Olszewski said the bill would lead to an annual reduction in state greenhouse gas emissions of about 1.4 million metric tons — a reduction equivalent to 250,000 cars coming off the road, he said.

Jessica McFaul, press secretary for the American Forest & Paper Association, said that if funds are available for renewable resources, black liquor should be included. If black liquor is not used to generate energy, it is incinerated, McFaul said.

Although incinerators have controls to limit the environmental impact of the emissions produced by this burning, the energy value of the black liquor is lost, she said.

According to a 2011 Environmental Protection Agency report, mill byproducts such as black liquor will produce the same emissions regardless of whether they are burned for energy or burn or decay elsewhere.

Last year, a similar bill passed the state Senate Finance committee but failed after coming one vote short in the House Economic Matters committee despite having support in the full House, Olszewski said.

-Brian Compere, CNS