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Despite job losses, Md. aims to reach renewable energy goals

While the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt jobs in the renewable energy field, Maryland is still aiming to reach it's renewable energy goals by 2030. (Deposit photos)

While the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt jobs in the renewable energy field, Maryland is still aiming to reach it’s renewable energy goals by 2030. (Deposit photos)

It’s too early to tell if COVID-19 will delay the state’s renewable energy goals, despite sharp job reductions and slowdowns since March in some sectors, say industry observers.

“We don’t envision anything more than a temporary slowdown because the jobs are really, really needed and the policies have been passed,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Last year Maryland set a new goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2030.

Tidwell said another positive aspect is that “lots of heavy industry in other parts of the economy are going forth.”  The “vast amount” of the clean energy effect will occur, he said from utility-scale solar farms, land-based wind farms and offshore wind farms.

According to a memo published on July 15, by Philip Jordan, vice president of the market research firm BW Research, Maryland has lost 10,492 clean energy jobs or 12.4% and 8,829 jobs in energy efficiency, a major slice of the clean energy pie since the coronavirus pandemic set in.

Energy efficiency work, such as installing efficient technology or appliances in the home or new geothermal heat pumps or lighting, has slowed due to the pandemic requiring workers to social distance and wear protective gear.

The national solar industry, which accounts for rooftop solar installations and commercial solar farms, has lost 72,000 direct jobs due to COVID-19, including 2,803 solar jobs in Maryland, a 55% decline, said Morgan Lyons, senior communications manager for the Solar Energy Industry Association.

“I see it as a big speed bump,” said David Murray, the executive director of Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association. “In March things were going pretty well on the rooftop side.”

Murray said solar is an essential element, and roofers and electricians were considered essential occupations by the state of Maryland. “Because of that, we were still able to operate. Technicians need only to go into a garage or the electrical panel in homes. We are making adjustments. Sales time is done by computer face time.”

Meanwhile, utilities such as Southern Maryland Electric Co. continue to invite developers of photovoltaic power stations to add to the two solar farms already providing energy to SMECO. “It takes establishing a purchase power agreement. A company buys the land and we then make an agreement to buy the energy,” said SMECO spokesman Tom Dennison.

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.’s contribution to the state goal, said spokesperson Linda Foy, is “to have a positive impact on clean energy with our energy efficiency programs, battery storage and solar.”

She stated BGE customers are expected to save more than $5.3 billion as a result of the BGE Smart Energy Savers Program and have reduced their electricity use by 4.6 billion kilowatt-hours since 2008.

Gabe Martinez, the mid-Atlantic spokesperson for the green energy firm Ørsted, sees offshore wind playing “a key role in helping our nation recover from this unprecedented economic crisis.” Ørsted’s Skipjack offshore wind farm is located 19.5 miles off the coast of Maryland with an energy staging center at Sparrows Point and an interconnection facility currently being negotiated for somewhere on the Maryland/Delaware shore.

Martinez concedes the pandemic arrived with a negative side.

“Like a lot of other businesses Ørsted has had to adjust the way we work and adapt to this new reality that we all face,” he said. “The safety of our employees and our suppliers is of utmost importance to us and COVID-19 has not changed that approach. Some work has had to be postponed when social distancing has not been possible, but for the most part, our colleagues have successfully transitioned to a remote work setup, and we have not been hampered in our ability to deliver.”

In 2013, the state passed an offshore wind law that added offshore wind projects to its Renewable Portfolio Standard to provide financial support for projects in the form of Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credits.

Director Mary Beth Tung said her Maryland Energy Administration is addressing and understands “the needs of our current and future grantees during the pandemic by offering deadline extensions, loan deferrals and new grant features that provide project options and flexibility.”

Tung said MEA’s recent Low-to-Moderate Income Energy Efficiency Grant program assists community-based organizations supporting most vulnerable Marylanders with funds to implement energy cost reduction measures. It also covers grants to help businesses and farmers reduce operating costs and emissions.

In the General Assembly, according to Sen. Brian Feldman, “changes to the Clean Energy Jobs Act is not front and center.” The sponsor of last year’s legislation said that when the Senate reconvenes, the No. 1 priority will be budget and No. 2 will be unemployment insurance.

“We will take a look at the impact of the pandemic in the clean energy space,” he said.

It is too early to make a change in the goal, he said, “There was already a lot of momentum before (the pandemic) to move away from fossil fuels in the state. I don’t know if we want to abandon the upside advantage in clean energy potential until we see the full blow and length of the economic damage of the pandemic.”


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