Opinion: Response to Del. Glenn: Supporting Progress on Wind and Solar

We wish to offer some context to the commentary “Don’t Impede Maryland’s Progress on Wind and Solar,” which was published in Maryland Matters on Aug 8 by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City).

On July 17, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility (CPSR) issued Version 1 of a report titled “Unbundled: How Renewable Energy Credits Undermine Maryland’s Transition to Clean, Renewable Energy.” This report was subsequently positively cited by The Baltimore Sun in an editorial. The report concludes that there are serious flaws in our state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, the mechanism we currently use that is supposed to increasingly replace the carbon-producing fossil fuel sources of our electricity – major drivers of climate change – with clean renewable energy.

Our intent in publishing this report is to strengthen the foundation upon which the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is built, not to “take a bulldozer and push the whole house to the ground.” Our report found that in 2016, Maryland utilities used over 7 million non-solar Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) at a cost of over $88 million to meet their requirements under the Renewable Portfolio Standard.  Timothy Whitehouse  About three-fourths of this ratepayer-supported payment went outside our state. Based on our review of Public Service Commission records, we concluded it is likely that all of these RECs were “unbundled,” meaning no energy was purchased by the Maryland utilities as part of these transactions. Unbundled RECs are subsidies to energy producers from Maryland ratepayers that are separate from the electricity those producers generate. Unbundled RECs allow utilities to continue to purchase electricity from fossil fuel and nuclear sources while claiming credit for renewable energy that was produced and purchased elsewhere. Much of the energy subsidized by Maryland ratepayers – including incineration of garbage, utility-scale burning of wood, and use of toxic industrial by-products as generator fuel – is as bad or worse for the climate and human health than burning fossil fuels. The report urged lawmakers to move away from the RPS’s reliance on unbundled RECs and to require Maryland utilities to buy increasing amounts of clean, renewable energy. We expressed our concern that the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act would increase the state’s reliance on unbundled RECs.

Chesapeake PSR is the regional chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a national organization of physicians, other health professionals, and scientists. It was founded during the Cold War to address the threat to human health posed by nuclear war. In 1985, PSR received the Nobel Peace Prize for this work. Over two decades ago, PSR also recognized climate change as a second existential threat to human health and well-being, and we work to provide science- and fact-based analysis and advocacy to address this threat. The Chesapeake PSR has provided such in-depth, fact-based analysis for Maryland’s legislators and the public in areas including the health and environment dangers of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and of smog pollutants from coal-fired electricity generating plants. The report on unbundled RECs continues this line of in-depth fact-based analysis. Chesapeake PSR was an early and strong proponent of Maryland’s RPS. Our current assessment of the RPS, however, is that has not lived up to its potential – latest available data show that after a decade of using our present RPS approach, Maryland gets only about 5 percent of its electricity from in-state wind and solar. With proposals to increase the RPS, now is the time for a robust discussion about whether the current Maryland’s RPS mechanisms are working as effectively as possible. Chesapeake PSR welcomes constructive dialogue and looks forward to working with other groups, industry leaders, consumers, and legislators committed to accelerating Maryland’s transition to clean renewable energy. — Tim Whitehouse Tim Whitehouse is executive director of the Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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