Opinion: Stakes Are High for Clean Energy and a Chance to Save the Bay
Despite the sweltering heat, there’s much to celebrate when you step outside in Maryland this summer.
Bald eagles, osprey, and blue heron once on the brink of local extinction are back. We haven’t seen numbers like these on the Chesapeake Bay since the days of Captain John Smith four centuries ago. Underwater grasses—habitats for fish and small critters—are steadily rising. And I saw a pod of 12 dolphins while sailing just south of the Bay Bridge.
Despite lots of good days on the Chesapeake Bay, there remains a disconnect between the largest and most important estuary in the United States and our overall commitment to addressing climate change.
We need to refocus on locally produced clean energy.
Maryland has made huge strides on renewables. With the Clean Energy Jobs Act coming into law this year, 50 percent of Maryland’s electric power will come from renewables by 2030. But critics feel more needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Governor Hogan knows the stakes are high and he has criticized the Clean Energy Jobs Act noting, “Despite its name, this bill is not clean enough, nor smart enough, nor does it create the intended jobs within Maryland.”
The critics are right. Historically, 80 percent of the renewable energy credits used to comply with the program came from out of state — we missed a big opportunity for local job creation and local environmental improvement. The Clean Energy Jobs Act steps in the right direction by raising the threshold for in-state solar development. And it will almost quadruple Maryland’s offshore wind commitment.
However, households will pay more at the end of the day, and current policy will only get us to 50 percent renewable power. We can do more to keep costs low, increase in-state production and aim for 100 percent clean energy.
Hogan has stepped up by proposing a Clean and Renewable Energy Standard (CARES) that would bring Maryland to zero net carbon emissions from the power sector by 2040. If it becomes law, it would cement Maryland as a national leader in clean energy and climate and draw in jobs and innovators.
The governor proposes to focus on the strategic use of zero- and low-carbon clean and renewable energy sources — including nuclear power. Climate hawks should embrace nuclear power, especially here in Maryland, where it accounts for 44 percent of Maryland’s net power production and 75 percent of current zero emissions energy.
We need vastly more renewables; but truthfully, we cannot achieve zero emissions without nuclear power in the short run. And in the long-run, the Hogan team’s focus on small modular reactors will pay dividends. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s a commitment to maintaining nuclear expertise that ranges from our nuclear Navy to Maryland-based start-ups like X-Energy.
The proposal to focus on hydropower with a direct link to environmental stewardship is exciting. The Conowingo Dam’s current performance and license renewal may finally come to the forefront in our state’s energy discussions. The hydropower facility doesn’t get credit under the current system despite its out-sized role in the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Last year, the Bay’s “grade” dropped to a D+ because of extraordinary weather driving pollution and debris through the Conowingo Dam and into the bay. If we’re serious about saving the bay and addressing climate change, we need a program that will value the dam for its role in clean energy and the bay’s overall health.
I was also pleased to see a focus on carbon capture and storage in the governor’s plan. This technology is proven and on the cusp of broader deployment as costs come down and markets are established. This is a growing market that embraces innovation and could provide real benefit to workers and consumers in Maryland.
Governor Hogan’s bold vision for Maryland’s energy economy is encouraging, but more details will be needed before businesses, labor leaders, environmentalists, and Chesapeake Bay savers get on board. They must recognize that a 100 percent zero emissions goal, while ambitious, is achievable and necessary for the long-term health of the bay and the development of our local economy.
— CHARLES HERNICK
The writer is an Annapolis resident and the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to educating the public and influencing the national conversation about clean energy.