April 10, 2010

UPDATE: Solar power requirements pass both House, Senate

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By MarylandReporter.com Staff

A requirement that utility companies include more solar energy in the mix of power they sell to Maryland customers has been sent to the governor for his signature, after the Senate agreed to lowered penalties approved by the House.

The House and Senate had differed on the size of penalties that utilities must pay if they don’t meet the lofty goal, which will reach 2 percent by 2022.

Republican opponents of the bill have protested that the charges will be passed on to ratepayers and could prove especially costly to busineses, which would pay more under the measure.

Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, the sponsor, said the House reduced the potential penalties by 85 percent, so the amount utilities could pass along would be about $185 million, not the $890 million originally estimated.

“Wow, they did a great thing,” said Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick. But Sen. Andy Harris said $185 million was still to much, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin agreed.

The potential penalty “wipes out the equivalent of the settlement” with Constellation Energy Gov. Martin O’Malley won for BGE customers, Pipkin said.

The Senate voted 31-15 to approve the House changes to Garagiola’s bill.

“This whole program is going to be on the backs of the business community … Without question, the business community that creates jobs is going to be unbelievably hit, hard,” Del. Patrick McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford, said during a debate on the issue this week.

Ratepayers would have to cover the shortfall if utilities could not match the required incremental increases of solar power.

Democrats have said the possible increase to ratepayers under the worst case would be just pennies a month.

Del. Brian McHale, D-Baltimore City, said the measure would be good for the economy because it will help draw solar design and installation work to the state. Some opponents had questioned whether the panels that would be used to fill the quota would be produced in Maryland.

“This bill is a pro-jobs bill, because what we’re doing is we’re encourage more solar energy to be utilized in Maryland,” McHale said.