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Trump’s climate decision seen as unlikely to affect Md.’s renewable industry

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement fulfilled one of his campaign promises to tilt federal energy policy in favor of fossil fuels like coal, but it’s unlikely to have a significant effect on Maryland, energy executives and government officials say.

The state has done enough to create its own renewable energy industries, including solar, that it’s not susceptible to winds of change at the federal level.

“I think that the momentum behind the solar industry is well beyond anything that hopefully Donald Trump can control,” said Tony Clifford, chief development officer at Standard Solar, a solar development company based in Rockville. “Market forces are going to determine what happens to the solar industry and the industry in general.”

Beyond pulling out of the international climate agreement, Trump’s administration is currently reviewing the Clean Power Plan, implemented by former President Barack Obama. The man leading that review, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, sued to stop the plan as Oklahoma attorney general.

Clifford also expressed concerns that during tax reform efforts the administration could favor the fossil fuel industry over renewable energy industries, creating a long-term effect.

However, in the near and middle terms, Clifford said, solar in Maryland will be fine.

“Solar is going to be inevitably in good shape,” he said. “I just think that we’re too robust an industry at this point to live or die based on the president essentially pulling out of what’s a voluntary pact.”

Offshore wind companies, such as the US Wind project the Maryland Public Service Commission approved last month, anticipate that business will not be affected by federal changes. If anything, the president’s focus on American steel could help the industry, said Paul Rich, director of project development for the Maryland-based US Wind.

“I’m quite bullish on the ability of the administration on the federal level to help this industry,” he said. “By them assisting in the creation of this industry and jobs and manufacturing and the revitalization of steel in this country is a role very well-suited for Trump and his administration.”

State Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, who cosponsored a bill in 2016 to increase the state’s use of renewable energy sources to 25 percent by 2020, said Maryland can advance its renewable energy industries without support from the federal government.

“We’re going to have to carve our own path going forward,” he said. “We have tools in our toolbox that are not contingent on the federal level. It would be helpful if we had a partner at the federal level, but I’m not going to say it’s required.”

In 2004, the state legislature passed a bill, signed by Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, to create the state’s renewable energy portfolio. That put Maryland ahead of most other states and the federal government in looking for sources of energy beyond traditional fossil fuels.

The legislation also helped spur the current renewable energy industries that have seen success in the state. Feldman estimated that it has created 60-70 new businesses in the state.

“We made a decision early on that we didn’t want to rely entirely on policies being enacted at the federal level,” he said. “We’ve done that, and I think it’s been successful.”

But state Del. Shane Robinson, D-Montgomery, worried that Trump’s actions could have a “dampening effect” on the potential growth for the industry in Maryland because foreign investors have been signaled that the United States is not interested in renewable energy.

“I think we will see that grow no matter what,” he said, “but it’s not going to grow at the rate that it would have if we had stayed in the Paris agreement.”

 


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