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Advocates rally to override Hogan’s renewable energy veto

Sen. Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery, speaks during the rally Thursday in Annapolis. (Bryan P. Sears/The Daily Record)

Sen. Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery and Senate sponsor of the clean energy bill, speaks during the rally Thursday in Annapolis. (Bryan P. Sears/The Daily Record)

ANNAPOLIS — Clean energy advocates rallied in support of an expected effort by the General Assembly to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation requiring more solar and wind electricity generation.

The bill, which requires that the state generate 25 percent of its electricity using solar and wind technologies, passed in 2016 by veto-proof majorities. The governor has called the bill a $100 million tax on electricity customers.

Advocates hope the override will be taken up in the first week of the 2017 session and say they believe the legislature has the votes to overturn Hogan’s actions even with vacancies in the House and a senator who may not be present for session.

“Overriding this veto is so critically important, and the No. 1 reason is jobs,” said Andrew Gohn, eastern states policy director for the American Wind Energy Association.

Advocates estimate that the legislation would create 1,000 jobs in the state that are related to wind and solar electricity generation.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed similar legislation in 2004 that required 20 percent of all electricity to be generated by wind or solar by 2022.

“Then-Gov. Ehrlich showed great vision back then at that time by signing into law what was at the time one of the first (renewable energy) programs in the entire United States,” said Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery County and sponsor of the vetoed legislation.

“What Gov. Ehrlich did not have at the time was kind of this knee-jerk, Grover Norquist-parrotted response to say that this kind of investment needs to be characterized as a tax,” Feldman said. “That seems to be dominant now in the modern, current Republican Party.”

Advocates say the costs to the average electricity user will be minimal but will produce a savings over time, but they could not provide clear definitions of how long that would take.

A study conducted for advocates of the bill estimated that rates would increase by 58 cents a month for residential customers and $5.56 cents per month for commercial customers by 2020. Those monthly increases would drop to 36 cents and $3.50, respectively, by 2025.

“That price is worth it for cleaner energy,” said James McGarry, Maryland and D.C. policy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Committee.

In 2014, state electricity customers paid $104 million in compliance costs to meet the renewable energy requirements for that year, according to a Maryland Public Service Commission report published in January 2015.

Costs for 2015 should be available from the commission by February.

State officials said the costs are difficult to estimate because they are subject to the commodities market.

Del. C. William “Bill” Frick, D-Montgomery and sponsor of the House version of the bill, compared Hogan to President-elect Donald Trump.

“If this is good policy, if this is good for the environment and good for economy, why are we here?” Frick said. “We’re here because the Trump of State Circle decided to play politics. The administration knows this is good policy.”

Frick said the veto, if allowed to stand, would have environmental consequences, including the rise of sea levels that could affect the state.

“Just as Donald Trump has proposed an Environmental Protection Administrator who doesn’t really believe in environmental protection, so has Larry Hogan proposed reducing greenhouse gases but vetoed the way we reduce greenhouse gases,” Frick said. “Just as Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again, I guess our own Donald Trump, as one person put it, wants to make Ocean City ocean again.”

Hogan vetoed the bill last year and earlier this week called it a $100 million “sunshine tax” on Maryland ratepayers.

“It’s sad the lengths that some Maryland politicians will go to in order to raise their neighbors’ (electricity) rates,” said Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman.

At a Tuesday news conference, Hogan announced nearly $65 million in funding for various wind and solar energy programs. The package, announced in advance of the 2017 session and the expected veto override vote, appears to be offered as an alternative to the Frick and Feldman bills.

“It was a $100 million tax increase that I opposed. I think we’re able to accomplish a lot of these things without raising, making hard-working Marylanders pay more than they do,” Hogan told reporters Tuesday. “Back during the campaign I was fighting against the rain tax, right? I jokingly said, ‘What are they going to think of next, a sunshine tax?’ This is actually a sunshine tax. It’s charging people every month on their bill to force people to buy expensive solar and wind energy. We don’t need this bill to pass.”

Mayer attributed the $100 million estimate to a review of the bill conducted by the Department of Legislative Services. He said comparisons to Trump are “absurd.”

“The governor was elected to stop bad ideas like this,” Mayer said. “Despite the rather absurd and juvenile rhetoric coming from back-bench, out-of-touch politicians, he’s going to continue to do exactly what the people of Maryland sent him here to do.”

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