Environmental advocates are pushing for Maryland to require state utilities to buy half of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar, a target four other states and the District already have signed into law.
Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), who sits on the House Economic Matters Committee, said he will sponsor legislation next year to reach the 50 percent level by 2030, and advocates say they are working to identify a potential sponsor in the Senate Finance Committee.
But lawmakers say it seems unlikely such an ambitious plan would be approved in 2018, when every member of the General Assembly will be up for reelection.
The Democratic-majority legislature voted earlier this year to boost the state’s renewable-energy requirement from 20 percent as of 2022 to 25 percent by 2020.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed the measure, saying the change would increase electricity rates for taxpayers, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
“Taxes are a big, hot topic for people,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), explaining why he thinks lawmakers would be reluctant to approve an even stricter standard, especially if Hogan and others say it would cause rates to go up. “I doubt very seriously that this would pass.”
Advocates, led by the Maryland Climate Action Network and Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, say their campaign is especially important in light of President Trump's promise to bolster the coal industry, his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, his administration's review of Obama-era emissions targets and his proposal to slash the budget for the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
More than 330 groups have pledged support, including environmental advocates, businesses, faith organizations, labor unions and the Maryland NAACP.
Lobbying efforts will look similar to this year's successful campaign to ban fracking, which involved frequent demonstrations outside the statehouse in Annapolis and collaboration with local governments.
“As the federal government moves backward on climate, Maryland is moving forward,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Proponents of a 50 percent goal say the measure would create green jobs and the environmental and public-health benefits would outweigh any rate increases. Many supporters also argue the costs would be modest in the near-term and possibly nonexistent in the future, pointing out that renewable energy is quickly becoming less expensive.
But House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) said the proposed increase would be “another tax on working families, small businesses and retirees.”
Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse declined to comment on the proposal but highlighted some of the governor’s past support for environmental protections, including signing legislation that requires a 40 percent reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and pushing through his own bills that provide incentives for expanding renewable energy and using electric vehicles.
Del. Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s), chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, which deals with energy regulation, expressed frustration with advocates pushing to raise the state’s standard so soon after a fight over the last increase.
“The ink was barely dry on the veto override,” he said. “I feel that maybe some folks were being disingenuous about what they really wanted last time.”
While some lawmakers question whether raising the standard to 50 percent is feasible next year, Del. A. Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery) has called for an even more drastic increase, promising last month he will introduce legislation to increase the goal to 100 percent renewables by 2035.
Hawaii has enacted legislation to reach the 100 percent level by 2045.
California and New York have laws in place requiring 50 percent of their electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, while D.C. and Oregon must meet that standard by 2032 and 2040, respectively.