Maryland legislature overrides governor’s clean-energy veto

Perhaps the federal legislature could take a lesson on how to do what their constituents want from the Maryland legislature.

The Maryland Senate, following the lead of the Maryland House on Tuesday, voted to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which passed overwhelmingly last spring before the governor nixed it.

In the wake of the stunning rebuke of Hogan, the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) rise 5% (from 20 to 25%) and one-half of a percent rise in the solar carve-out portion of the bill (which would rise to 2.5 percent from its current level of 2 percent) by 2020. The previous RPS required utilities to provide 20% of their power by 2022

While the numbers seem small, advocates for the bill say it will spur further solar development in the state. Solar energy has become big business in Maryland. In fewer than 10 years the industry has delivered more than 35,000 projects and finished with more than 620 MW in service, crushing the goals of the previous RPS by 200%.

“Today was a great day for the solar industry in Maryland,” said Tony Clifford, chief development officer for Standard Solar, a Rockville, Md.-based solar installer. “It puts us on the right path to continue expanding one of our state’s fastest-growing industries. But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels – we still have work to do this session.”

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the vote provides Maryland with an opportunity to continue expanding its burgeoning solar industry in the coming years.

“We are pleased that Maryland lawmakers listened to their constituents today, paving the way for increased renewable energy in communities across the state,” Ross Hopper said. “Today, the solar industry employs thousands of Marylanders who know firsthand that when you expand clean energy, you increase the number of well-paying local jobs.”

Opposition to the veto didn’t just come from the solar industry. The Maryland Climate Coalition, the Sierra Club and Chesapeake Climate Action Network joined the solar industry, as did The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers around the state. A barrage of phone banking and radio spots also helped spur the public to action.

In its Jan. 23 editorial in favor of overriding the veto, the Sun wrote:

The non-partisan polling firm OpinionWorks found that a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents support the Clean Energy Jobs Act, as do a majority in rural, urban and suburban communities — even with a small increase in their electric bill. Support is no lower than 63% throughout the state, and some areas peak at 81% in favor.

Even with that overwhelming support among the voters, however, advocates weren’t 100% sure they had the votes for the override. Votes had been scheduled last week but were postponed while legislative leaders met, discussed and then met again.

But in a surprise vote on Tuesday, the House of Delegates voted to override the veto 88-51. In response, the Senate scheduled today’s vote. Voting in the Senate was closer than expected, but the override passed the Senate 32-13, completing the process and bringing the Clean Jobs Act to Maryland law.

In his message to the legislature last April defending his veto, Gov. Hogan mistakenly referred to the RPS as a “tax.”

“This legislation is a tax increase that will be levied upon every single electricity ratepayer in Maryland and, for that reason alone, I cannot allow it to become law,” Hogan wrote.

Update: This article was updated at 4:19 pm EST on 2/2/17 to include remarks from SEIA’s President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper.