Lawmaker May Seek to Remove ‘Black Liquor’ from State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio

House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George's). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

A top-ranking lawmaker said Thursday he may introduce legislation next year to change part of the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

Speaking on a panel at the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City, House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) said he is drafting legislation to remove the substance known as black liquor from the list of renewable energy sources able to receive state subsidies.

Black liquor is a byproduct of paper production, part of the chemical process in which wood is converted into wood pulp and ultimately into paper. It is also an energy source – though its inclusion in government renewable portfolios throughout the country is controversial, particularly with environmental groups.

Davis said he was considering trying to remove black liquor from the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in part because the state’s lone paper mill, in Luke in far Western Maryland, closed its doors earlier this summer.

“It would be appropriate to remove it from our Tier 1 resources” – the list of renewable energy sources that qualify for state subsidies, Davis said.

Davis made his remarks during a broader panel discussion of the state’s clean energy goals, which featured Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, Maryland Energy Administration chief Mary Beth Tung, and Maryland Public Service Commission Chairman Jason M. Stanek.

The legislature passed a bill this year mandating that the state get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has announced his desire to hit 100 percent clean energy by 2040. Hogan issued an executive order Wednesday outlining some of those goals, including a provision to create a workgroup to set guidelines for siting large solar and other renewable energy installations in the state.

Environmentalists were rankled by their exclusion from the workgroup, at least according to the wording of the executive order listing the stakeholders that were going to be involved. Grumbles sought to assure them that their voices would be heard.

“Environmental representation is very much a part of the task force,” Grumbles said in response to a question.

Hogan administration officials have made it clear that as they work to achieve their clean energy targets, they will push to include nuclear energy and hydropower in the state’s renewable portfolio – which are also controversial power sources that could encounter some opposition from green groups.

“We’ll discuss the role of hydro as well as nuclear” during the upcoming legislative session, Davis said.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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