Poll Shows Strong Support for Phasing Out Coal Plants as Barve Readies Bill

The Brandon Shores Generating Station in Anne Arundel County. Wikipedia Commons photo

The chairman of the principal environmental committee in the House of Delegates plans to introduce legislation next year to shutter the state’s six remaining coal-fired power plants.

House Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) said Tuesday that he is having legislation drafted to gradually close coal plants in favor of clean power electric generation. In a conference call with reporters, Barve said he hadn’t settled on a timeline for shutting down the coal plants.

“As the sponsor, I’m going to want a faster timeline, but this is ultimately something we’re going to have to negotiate,” he said.

Barve’s announcement coincided with the release of a poll from the Sierra Club showing strong support in Maryland for eliminating the state’s reliance on coal power.

The poll of 947 registered Maryland voters, taken Oct. 18-27, showed widespread support for a transition to clean energy sources — among Democrats, Republicans and independents, and in all regions of the state.
In the survey, 70 percent of all Maryland voters said they would support legislation that would transition the state off coal. That number included 80 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents, and 54 percent of Republicans.
The proposal garnered 78 percent support in Prince George’s County, 77 percent in Montgomery County, 76 percent in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, 72 percent in Charles County, 67 percent in Baltimore County, and 59 percent in the rest of the state.
The poll, by Hart Research Associates, a Democratic firm, and Ferguson Research, a Republican firm, had a 3.8-point margin of error.
Survey respondents not only saw the benefit of transitioning away from coal to the environment, but for utility rates, jobs and the economy, and reliability of the electric grid.
An overwhelming majority of poll respondents said they would support state-sponsored programs to retrain people who work in coal plants and hold harmless the jurisdictions that rely on the plants for tax revenues.
Significantly, the poll shows strong support for politicians who would support phasing out coal — especially among Democrats. Overall, 57 percent of voters said they’d look more favorably upon a lawmaker who supports a coal ban: 74 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents, and 32 percent of Republicans (though another 32 percent of Republicans said a politician’s support for a coal phase-out wouldn’t make a difference either way).
“It’s important to remind everyone that we are talking about Maryland, where the number of Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans,” said Jay Campbell, a partner with Hart Research.
Barve said he hopes Republicans, including Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), support the measure.
“There’s no reason for this to be a Democrat-only issue,” he said. “It’s a bipartisan issue.”
Maryland has coal plants in Montgomery, Allegany, Prince George’s and Charles counties, plus two in Anne Arundel County.
Coal accounts for about 25 percent of the power generated in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Coal-fired electricity generation in Maryland declined by almost 60% between 2011 and 2017. In 2017, Maryland’s in-state coal plants provided about 13% of the state’s gross electricity consumption.
Under the terms of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, legislation to double renewable fuel use in the state by 2030, there should be enough energy generated by renewables to essentially make coal obsolete by the mid-2020’s, said David Smedick, a representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
Earlier this year, New York adopted rules to phase out coal generation by the end of 2020. Washington state has a rule to force utilities to stop buying electricity generated from coal by the end of 2025. The state of Colorado has opened a “just transition office” to help workers in the transition away from coal.
“We have to have an open and honest conversation about phasing out the six power plants in Maryland,” Smedick said.
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.