April 8, 2010

House committee scales back solar bill fines

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

A House panel has agreed with a Senate proposal to boost the amount of solar power that utilities must sell to customers, but wants smaller penalties for not meeting the goal.

The original Senate version contains a provision that Marylanders may have to pay a penalty totaling about $890 million if utility companies could not meet the checkpoints on the way to a 2 percent increase by 2022. The amount would be spread out over the course of 16 years to ratepayers to cover the shortfall.  

The measure was originally proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. Check out a video on the proposal from Capital News Service here.

Del. Brian McHale, D-Baltimore City, offered the amendment that shortens the amount of time ratepayers would see an increase on their energy bills. Under the amendment, the penalty would only increase by one-tenth of a percent for five years, leveling off at half a percent in 2016 onward.

McHale said the new worst case scenario for ratepayers would be $185 million after consulting with fiscal analysts. 

“Do I wish there was no cost to this? Sure. But the amounts that we’re talking about with these amendments when you spread it across the entire universe to electricity customers — it really is just 10 cents per month,” McHale said.

The committee passed the bill 18 to 3.

Republican opponents said while the amendment would reduce the penalty for ratepayers, they would not support any increase at all for their constituents.

“[They] can make that investment on their own and under their own decision,” said Del. Donna Stifler, R-Harford. “I don’t need to make that decision for them. What I see in this bill is that we’re requiring them to make that investment and some of them frankly cannot afford it.”

The total amount of energy garnered from solar energy panels would be equal to two traditional power plants of renewable energy, according to supporter. This was a key argument for Democratic leaders who are preparing for heated contest in the House.

Democrats fought in the Senate to preserve the bill from a bevy of Republican amendments. McHale said the late addition to the bill shouldn’t deter it from reaching Gov. O’Malley’s desk by the midnight Monday deadline.