Clean Energy Bill Clears Preliminary House Vote

    The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to a clean energy measure by voice vote Saturday, rejecting two Republican attempts to add amendments to the bill.

    The Clean Energy Jobs Act, which boosts the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 50 percent – meaning electric utilities must obtain half of their energy from renewable sources – will receive a final House vote on Monday, the last day of the General Assembly session.

    But even then, the fate of the legislation isn’t entirely clear. Because the bill under consideration in the House is a Senate bill, lawmakers will be able to propose amendments during the final debate. And because the House Economic Matters Committee made adjustments to the Senate bill, the Senate and House will have to reconcile their differences on Monday.

    House leaders believe the Senate will go along with the House changes, forestalling the necessity of a conference committee. Proponents of the legislation argue that it will help the state address climate change and boost the solar and wind energy industries.

    Members of the Economic Matters Committee on Friday evening restored a controversial regulation that enables the energy generated by waste-to-energy plants to be considered a “tier 1 fuel,” meaning it counts toward the percentage of renewable fuels being generated in the state. That provision was not in the Senate bill after multiple environmental and community groups – and a bipartisan group of lawmakers – argued that the state’s two waste-to-energy plants, in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, generate too much air pollution.

    The House version of the Senate bill also mandates a study of the nuclear industry in Maryland – matching legislation that has passed in the House but has not moved in the Senate. That provision is not popular with progressive Democrats in the legislature, though they made no move to strike it Saturday.

    During the hour-long floor debate, Republicans asked sharp questions about the cost of the clean energy mandate to ratepayers, the size of solar energy installations, and the potential environmental impacts of solar installations that are shuttered.

    Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) suggested that huge swaths of pristine land will have to be bulldozed to accommodate large solar installations – and also invoked Solyndra, the California-based solar company that went out of business several years ago despite millions of dollars in federal subsidies.

    “The notion that we have to save nature by destroying nature is absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

    Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick) questioned why the House committee decided to restore the provision allowing waste-to-energy plant fuel to be part of the RPS, given the air pollution that emanates from the plants.

    “Should taxpayers be subsidizing one of our greatest pollutants?” he asked.

    Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), who was serving as the floor leader for the bill, replied, “The committee’s conclusion is that the benefits outweigh the concerns.”

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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.