The tricky tide of renewables in Maryland

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You’re not beat until you accept defeat. Until you address your concession of all hope and opportunity, like a fox cornered by hounds, you have a shot. Sometimes it’s not even defeat you’re conceding to. Say you’re the biggest Godzilla fan alive. You know the new Godzilla movie is coming out next week and you text five friends to see if they want to go to the midnight premiere. All of them decline. You haven’t lost – you’re still going to the premiere – but you have conceded the possibility of going with friends.

King of the Monsters aside, the same scenario is playing out before us in Maryland, as Governor Larry Hogan announced yesterday that he will not be signing SB 516, dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, but he will not be vetoing the measure either. He will allow the bill to pass, in the hopes that the bill is replaced.

Before we proceed, let’s make one thing entirely clear. The passage of SB 516 is a monumental achievement in the world of renewable energy legislation. The bill sets the most aggressive carveout for solar in any RPS policy known to pv magazine, requiring that 14.5% of the state’s electricity come from solar by 2030. This is even more aggressive than Washington D.C.’s 5% by 2032, and the national average of electricity sourced from solar was only 2.3-2.4% in 2018.

Even more impressive is that, of the 10 states that now have at least a 50% renewable mandate, Maryland is the only one where the mandate passed with a Republican governor in office. Moreover, Hogan isn’t your typical Republican, and has made waves by being one of the only prominent members of his party to address and warn of the dangers presented by climate change.

So here’s the million-dollar question: Why wouldn’t Governor Hogan sign the bill?

Well the first issue comes in the name of the bill. For the last half decade, Hogan has preached a promise to “change Maryland’s reputation as a state that is unfriendly to job creators.” In a letter he wrote to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), Hogan seemed skeptical that the bill would live up to its name, saying:

Despite its name, this bill is not clean enough, nor smart enough, nor does it create the intended jobs within Maryland. Instead, it was a rushed and deeply flawed proposal in need of significant improvements. However, I am allowing Senate Bill 516 to become law without my signature in the hopes of opening the door for a productive conversation to truly advance clean and renewable energy in our state.

So why not veto the policy if he disagrees with it? Well, as first surmised by Maryland Matters, Hogan has a plan to surpass this RPS before it can take off by introducing legislation of his own. In fact, Gov. Hogan’s planned legislation, the Clean and Renewable Energy Standard, would put Maryland on track to become powered by 100% clean energy by 2040 – even more aggressive than California’s mandate.

Before we get too excited, let’s take a little field trip to our old Arizona stomping grounds. Remember Andy Tobin, of the Arizona Corporation Commission’s (ACC) Andy Tobin’s 80% “clean energy” by 2050 goal? The devil was in the details with that plan, as nuclear was included under the umbrella of “clean energy”.

It could well be that Gov. Hogan took a field trip of his own, as the Clean and Renewable Energy Standard clearly states the recognition of nuclear energy as a clean energy source. It also just so happens that Maryland’s neighbor, Pennsylvania is home to a ton of nuclear plants and that standards typically do not require the clean energy to meet the standard be sourced from inside the state.

Hogan’s hope feels a bit like our favorite old term, legislative jiu jitsu – give the people something they think they want, but tune it up enough to fit your own wants.

Unlike the other commissioners of the ACC, save Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, it seems as if the Maryland legislators know what they want, and if the 95-40 passing of SB 516 is any indication of sentiment, feel as if they have it. For now, Maryland has its RPS – and it’s a good one. It’s much too early to surmise if change is on the horizon in the coming year, so for now it’s just time to celebrate the present.

And there is absolutely nothing more empowering than going to the movies alone.