Senate next to vote on measure vetoed last year, which would increase goals for solar, wind, other clean power sources
Maryland’s House of Delegates on Tuesday overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation that would push the state to get more of its energy from renewable sources.
The 88 to 51 vote split along party lines, with Democratic lawmakers providing more than enough votes for the three-fifths majority needed to override the Republican governor’s veto.
The vote was not unexpected, as the bill had passed both chambers by large majorities last year. It would require that renewable sources such as wind and solar provide 25 percent of the state’s energy by 2020, an increase over the current goal of 20 percent by 2022. The “Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2016,” as it was titled, also specifies that 2.5 percent of the state's power must come from solar, up from 2 percent in current law.
"With the House override, Maryland's legislature has voted for progress,” said Del. Bill Frick, the majority leader and top sponsor of the House bill. The Montgomery County lawmaker said the vote was a stand for “cleaner air, for good jobs, and for leadership in an emerging industry,” and a rejection of what he called “disingenuous and inaccurate posturing of Hogan's politically motivated veto message.”
When he vetoed the bill, Hogan had said that while its goal was laudable, he considered it the wrong approach to increasing renewable energy. Under the current renewable energy law, he said, Maryland ratepayers paid $104 million in higher utility bills in 2014 because renewable energy cost more than power from fossil fuels. If the new bill became law, he predicted, ratepayers would be forced to pay $49 million to $196 million more by 2020.
In Tuesday’s debate, Republican delegates backed the governor, likening the bill to a de facto tax increase that they contended would be a burden to many households and businesses.
Fiscal analysts with the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services projected that meeting the bills’ higher renewable energy goals could increase the average residential customer’s monthly bill by anywhere from 77 cents to $3.06 in 2020, depending on a variety of factors.
Supporters, though, contended the measure would spur net economic growth of up to $600 million per year because of new solar construction and of Marylanders’ improved health from breathing cleaner air. They said the bill would create incentives for development of roughly 1,300 megawatts of new clean energy in the state, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2.7 million metric tons per year and supporting more than 1,000 jobs annually in the growing renewable energy industry.
Environmentalists hailed the House’s action and called on the Senate to follow suit. That chamber had delayed a vote last week and is scheduled to take it up on Thursday.
“This is one of the first state legislative votes nationwide to show that states WILL fight back when leaders like Hogan and the climate deniers in Washington attempt to thwart progress on clean-energy jobs and global warming pollution,’’ said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network.