EVERY SO OFTEN an idea comes along that suddenly makes it possible to address at the state level a problem the federal government is unable to deal with. A proposal to require the Maryland electricity grid to buy 7.5 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, now being considered by the General Assembly, falls into this category. In a small way, the measure would begin to address the larger problems of global warming, climate change and this country's over-dependence on fossil fuels for energy -- questions that seem, at the moment, impossible to cope with on a national scale.
True, the price of energy in Maryland might rise, by as much as 1 or 2 percentage points, if the measure were adopted. And the big industrial energy consumers in the state are lobbying hard against the stricter, more environment-friendly version of the bill for exactly that reason. On the other hand, prices might not rise: They didn't in Texas, when a similar bill was signed into law in 1999 by then-Gov. George W. Bush. (Thirteen other states also have passed such bills.) Instead, the measure helped kick-start Texas's wind industry, which now provides about 3 percent of the state's energy.
Admittedly, Texas has more and cheaper renewable energy sources. Maryland's wind industry, which would be based largely in the western part of the state, is still untested. Yet as a proportion of spending on electricity, the costs of this are low. Besides, "nothing worthwhile is cost-free," as House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, put it. And these costs seem, on balance, to be a price that Marylanders are willing to pay for cleaner air. A recent poll asked Marylanders whether they would be willing to pay a small portion of their electricity bill toward funding greater energy efficiency; 70 percent of the respondents said yes. Notably, the figures were higher in the Washington suburbs (84 percent) and in Baltimore (82 percent), where poor air quality looms larger in the public's consciousness. It would take some extra pushing, in a crowded legislative season, to get this measure off the ground, but Maryland's legislators should make the effort.