Tom Hucker: Allow Maryland Communities to Expand Clean Power

Clean Power
Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash.

Under Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the federal government not only blocked efforts to address the climate crisis but aggressively expanded the fossil fuel economy. But one bright spot that mitigates the damage from Washington has been the deeper commitment to clean energy initiatives at the state and local levels. These efforts must continue now that President Trump is out of office, and there’s no better place to ramp up action than right here in Maryland.

The surest path to meaningful climate action is with a bill to create community choice energy, or CCE, programs. That might sound like a mouthful, but the concept is remarkably simple: CCEs are local government-run energy programs that help cities and counties meet their clean energy goals by purchasing energy with higher renewable and lower greenhouse gas content, all at a lower cost to consumers. These community choice programs bring residents an opportunity to choose how they get electricity and provide greater local control for jurisdictions to fast track the transition to clean energy.

Similar programs already exist in nine states, giving millions of households the chance to buy renewable electricity – at a lower rate than they paid to traditional providers. Maryland is long overdue to implement community choice energy.

Maryland lawmakers will consider a recently introduced bill, HB 768, that would allow a community choice energy pilot program in Montgomery County this legislative session, so now is the time to rally in support of this sensible climate action bill. We got close last year: The CCE bill passed the House right before the COVID pandemic forced the General Assembly to end its session early.

We have an opportunity in 2021 to get the job done.

A CCE program with strong renewable standards would be an essential part of Montgomery County’s climate plan. Our county government declared a climate emergency in 2017 and announced an aggressive goal of transitioning to 100% renewables by 2035. We can’t reach that goal without a robust CCE program. But first, state lawmakers must vote to allow the county to pursue these goals, working in partnership with our residents.

We’ve watched how the creation of CCEs have worked in other parts of the country, particularly in California, where cities and counties that have adopted these programs are leading the country on the clean energy transition. Neighborhood groups spearheaded these efforts, increasing public participation in local democracy and working with local elected officials to get the programs off the ground. Existing CCE programs have been an inspiring lesson in the power of direct democracy, community action and climate activism.

Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker.

CCEs can deliver a win for the climate, but there is also an important element of economic justice involved. Lower-income families spend a larger share of their family income on energy bills and do not have the means to adopt many existing clean energy options, like replacing home appliances or installing rooftop solar panels. CCEs will change that.

While community choice energy delivers savings on your electric bill, it also promotes the growth of energy sources that reduce air pollution and benefit the climate. The Maryland legislation will allow local communities to own their own electricity generation, which could make it easier to build new community solar projects and other publicly-owned infrastructure.

Other states have delivered the undeniable benefits of community choice energy to their residents – and we can do the same thing here in Maryland. But the first step is to create a state law that will expand local control and consumer choice. Who could be against that?

I’m optimistic that Maryland will step up its response to the climate crisis. And I’m hopeful that our state’s elected officials get on board this legislative session to lead us into a carbon-free future.

— TOM HUCKER

The writer, a Democrat, is the elected president of the Montgomery County Council and chairs its Transportation & Environment Committee.