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Opinion: Modernizing the Electric Grid Isn’t Just About Wires photo by cafera13.

By Staci Hartwell

The writer is chair of the Environmental and Climate Justice Committee of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.

The recent commentary by Jason Stanek, chair of the Maryland Public Service Commission, argues essentially that the PSC doesn’t need the General Assembly’s input as our state plans how to modernize the electricity distribution grid. Trust us, he suggests.

While we respect the PSC’s role in overseeing Maryland’s utilities, I must disagree with his contention that legislative guidance isn’t appropriate.

We are at an important crossroads as the move toward a clean-energy future accelerates on many fronts. Electric vehicles are growing in popularity, offshore wind is on the horizon (pun intended), and our use of solar and other emission-free, clean technology energy sources is on the rise. And we, as a state, are starting to move toward all-electric buildings – free of polluting natural gas and heating oil – to address one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

All that demands that we modernize our grid to ensure it is ready to deliver more electricity across the state. With the acceleration of our transition to clean energy, the forecast to build capacity in our grid is indisputable.

Modernizing the grid is not just about wires. We must also ensure that the process of upgrading is guided by our goals to address climate change. We must also ensure that grid modernization will create good jobs that pay a fair wage and provide strong benefits.

A final goal for the planning is ensuring upgrades to the grid help promote racial equity. On that score, Maryland must take bold steps to undo its long history of harming communities of color.

Time and again, official state actions have had a disparate impact in many of these communities, such as the siting of polluting waste treatment and energy facilities, or highways, which create health hazards, drive down housing values, and hurt the local economy.

As we modernize our electricity grid, we can take steps to undo some of that damage. We can plan, for example, to install electric vehicle charging stations in lower-to-moderate income communities that often get overlooked – from Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Wicomico counties, and Lothian in Anne Arundel County, where residents must deal with pollution from multiple nearby facilities.

We can make sure the modernization of the electric grid helps create jobs for residents of those areas, so they can benefit economically from our move to clean energy. And we can plan to bring new community solar projects to these areas, so residents can have access to clean energy. This is all doable.

That’s why we need the GRID Act, which is pending in the General Assembly. It would ensure the PSC keeps these goals firmly in mind as it plans for changes to the grid.

The legislation would ensure that a range of stakeholders – not just utilities – are involved in the grid planning processes, including residential and commercial energy customers, residents of low-income communities, environmental advocacy groups, labor unions and energy experts.

The good news is the federal infrastructure bill specifically allocates funds for updating the electricity distribution grid – a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in critically needed improvements. Let’s take advantage of that funding and use it to fix the damage caused by a century of indifference and NIMBY attitudes.

Our energy future promises to bring major benefits to our state – cleaner air, less carbon emissions that fuel climate change and more sustainable energy sources. But those benefits must be available to all Marylanders, no matter where they live.

Now is the time to plan how we deliver on that goal, and it’s up to the General Assembly to lead the way.


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Opinion: Modernizing the Electric Grid Isn’t Just About Wires