Legislation aims to close all Md. coal-burning electricity plants

Bryan P. Sears//February 25, 2020

Legislation aims to close all Md. coal-burning electricity plants

By Bryan P. Sears

//February 25, 2020

ANNAPOLIS — Coal-burning electricity plants in Maryland could turn out their lights under legislation being considered in the Maryland General Assembly.

The bill finds itself competing with other high-profile environmental bills that will count on the same funding sources. Additionally, labor unions say the proposal will cause job losses while also costing local governments needed tax revenue.

Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, acknowledged the impact of the bill on the industry.

“This bill is a significant bill,” West said.  “It establishes a carbon dioxide emissions standard for all six remaining coal-burning electrical generating facilities in Maryland that is so low that none of them will be able to qualify.”

There are six coal powered electricity generating plants in Maryland. The bill calls for the phased-out closure of all six beginning in 2023 and ending in 2030.

“As a matter of public policy, this bill ensures that the era of coal furnaces belching carbon into the air in Maryland will come to an end,” West said.

Global warming issues

West and environmental advocates said the phase out is needed to address global warming issues and the effect burning coal has on climate change. Additionally, West noted the plants, used fewer than 20 days annually and then mostly on the hottest and coldest days of the year, will ultimately go the way of the dinosaur.

West’s bill calls for the state to redirect about $13 million annually from a state fund that pays for energy efficiency and renewable and clean energy programs. The money would be used to retrain workers, pay lost wages, and partially offset some tax loss for local governments — all on a temporary basis.

“It really is a false promise, as far as where the money is coming from,” said Donna Edwards, president of the Maryland and DC AFL-CIO, noting the money to pay for the program is already dedicated to other programs including paying for heating for low-income families. “There is no money in that pot for the transition that they’re talking about.”

The source of the funding, however, is also spoken for in other major environmental bills including one sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“This is not a bottomless pit of money,” said Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery and vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Other costs remain unknown.

A review by legislative analysts does not estimate the potential increases in electricity costs based on the closure of the six plants.

“We understand that coal is going through an economic situation where it is being phased out but the economics is what should phase it out and in Maryland, with respect to the Brandon Plan.

‘Insurance policy’

Debra Raggio, senior vice president of Talen Energy, which operates the Brandon Shores plant in Anne Arundel County, said plants such as hers represent an “insurance policy” against power outages on days when energy demands are highest. So far this year, the Brandon Shores plant has not been used once and they expect to use the plant just 14 days in 2020.

“Those 14 days are important days,” Raggio said. “We needed to be there to run lost October when it was hot and during the polar vortex when we had to run. Shutting us down in 2023 because of an arbitrary international date is not wise.”

Local governments will also likely feel the pinch from the closures in the form of reduced property taxes.

In Prince George’s County, the Chalk Point plan pays $45 million in taxes annually. The Morgantown plant at $8.5 million in taxes a year is Charles County’s biggest taxpayer.

The fund created by the bill to offset some of the costs of transition would not be enough to fully cover the tax loses — which would come at a time when local governments will feel the pressure to ramp up spending required for public K-12 education by the Kirwan Commission recommendations. The partial grants would end three years after a plant closed.

“You’re all going to have to help us come up with revenues that’s going to give Prince George’s County $45 million,” Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s, said.


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