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Activists with the League of Conservation Voters and the Maryland Climate Coalition rallied outside of the Statehouse last week while holding up small windmills in favor of clean energy. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Advocates urge doubling of renewable energy goals

Critics say it would boost rates for residents and businesses

Advocates for increasing the amount of renewable energy used in Maryland say they are confident this is their year to pass a bill that would double the state requirement to 40 percent by 2025.

“We feel very good about the bill despite the recent election,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a reference to the gubernatorial triumph of Republican Larry Hogan.

But opponents of the increase say the change will increase electricity costs for residential and business consumers and ultimately cost jobs.

The environmental group is part of a growing coalition that includes environmental and religious organizations and labor groups including Service Employees International Union 1199, which are pushing for the increase.

Maryland law, passed in 2004, requires the state to meet a 20 percent goal by 2020.

Tidwell and other supporters, including Sen. Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery County and the lead sponsor for this year’s effort, point to the fact that the original effort was signed into law by Republican former-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as a sign that such an effort can be successful under a divided government scenario. The current standard mandates that at least 20 percent of the state’s total electricity must come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2020.

“That was how this whole initiative started, and here we are 10 years later and we want to expand it,” Tidwell said.

Currently, the state is at 8 percent, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.

Tidwell said the state will hit the goal at its current pace but more needs to be done.

California is moving to a 50 percent requirement by 2030. Minnesota is also considering a 40 percent standard — an effort pushed there by a coalition of environmental, faith and labor groups.

“We’re moving along with some of the leading states,” Tidwell said. “This is not an effort where Maryland is out by itself.

The bill, which will be sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery County, is identical to legislation proposed last year. That bill died in committees in both the House and Senate.

Last year’s legislation was opposed by electricity producers and distributors, including Exelon, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative and Maryland Energy Group, an advocacy organization representing large energy users.

“Doubling the RPS will result in higher electricity prices that would have to be passed on to our customer-members,” said Tom Dennison, a spokesman for the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.

Dennison said the Charles County-based company has been aggressive in meeting the current state standards with solar facilities in Southern Maryland.

In 2012, the company put in service a 5.5 megawatt solar facility in Hughesville. The company also agreed to purchase the output of a 12 megawatt facility will be built in Waldorf later this year, Dennison said.

Todd R. Chasson, an attorney with Gordon Feinblatt who represents Maryland Energy Group, said his group continues to have concerns about how much the proposed changes would cost and whether companies would end up having to pay a fee because their system couldn’t handle the required amount of renewable energy.

The organization opposed the bill last year. This year’s bill has not yet been introduced but Chasson said his members would likely oppose it if it is identical to last year’s.

“Everything is really going to be driven by the costs,” Chasson said. “The devil is in the details.”

Jonathan A. Lesser, an economist and president of New Mexico-based Continental Economics, told the Senate Finance Committee last year that the bill would cost residential consumers an additional $130 to $215 by 2025. Companies would leave Maryland in search of cheaper energy prices, resulting in the loss of 3,300 to 5,500 jobs by the time the 40 percent standard was fully implemented.