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Activists with the League of Conservation Voters and the Maryland Climate Coalition rally outside of the Statehouse last month while holding up small windmills in favor of clean energy. (File photo)

Sponsors to scale back renewable energy proposal

ANNAPOLIS — The lead sponsor of legislation to increase the use of renewable energy sources in Maryland said he will offer an amendment to reduce the goals originally proposed in his bill.

The House Economic Matters Committee Friday heard testimony on a bill that would increase requirements on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. The bill as proposed calls for the state to increase use of those sources to 25 percent by 2020 and reach 40 percent by 2025.

Del. William C. Frick, D-Montgomery, said he will offer an amendment on his own bill that would require the state to meet the 25 percent goal by 2020 but set no date for reaching the higher percentage. Frick told the committee that Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery County and sponsor of cross-filed Senate legislation, would offer a similar amendment.

Frick said he was introducing the amendment because it was “important to make progress now. We anticipate more comfort among members with the more modest mandate.”

The amendment would essentially codify a goal set by Gov. Martin J. O’Malley.

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.

Some businesses and utility companies have opposed the bill based on cost. Privately, some legislators are expressing concerns about approving legislation that could potentially increase utility costs immediately following an election that was decided, as least in part, on taxes and pocketbook issues.

Dan Thompkins, a lobbyist for First Energy, said his company opposed the legislation, even at a 25 percent requirement, “because of the incredibly substantial cost increases. It simply costs more money than other methods of generation. It’s that simple.”

Proponents say those estimates are high and that increases would be roughly $2 per month. Under Frick’s amendment, they estimate the costs would increase by 54 cents per month.

An analysis by the Department of Legislative Services estimates that by 2018 the costs to customers under the bill as proposed will increase between $11 million and $44 million. By 2025, those costs are estimated to increase by $141 million to $566 million. Costs for power under the bill as proposed could increase the average monthly electricity bill by more than $8 with at least some going to pay penalties for not reaching the required goals.

Some in the industry say power companies are already struggling to meet the current legal requirements.

“Right now, where we are in southern Maryland for instance and across the state, we’re at 10 percent as of 2015,” said Tom Dennison, a spokesman and lobbyist for the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative. ”It’s a major investment that we’re making and we’re just trying to get to 20 percent by 2022. That’s our mandate and that’s what we’re trying to get to. Layering on additional mandates to 25 percent or 35 percent by 2025 is still going to cost our ratepayers money.”