May 20, 2010

Solar boost, other green measures become law

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

Maryland’s utilities will have to step up the amount of solar power in the mix of energy they sell to customers, under a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The change and other pro-environment measures were a focus of O’Malley’s scheduled bill signing. But the solar measures, which will push utilities to make solar power 2 percent of their energy mix by 2022, were especially controversial.

Other notable legislation included the Green Maryland Act, which requires state government agencies to purchase a minimum of 90 percent recycled paper. It also directs departments re-evaluate their purchasing practices by looking into other recycled material. Another new law extends a popular tax credit for historic redevelopment, and expands it to cover “sustainable” communities.

Mostly Republican opponents voiced concerns that energy companies would not be able to meet annual production checkpoints set out in the solar bill. That would lead to fines for utilities, which would be able to pass the costs onto ratepayers.

But with days left in the legislative session, both chambers came to an agreement on lowering the amount of possible penalties by 85 percent.

Sen. Robert Garagiola, D-Montgomery, said the legislation will benefit the state’s electric customers. Garagiola sponsored the bill.

“I’m glad we got the bill through. It’s going to be a great benefit to the state of Maryland. We’re going to be further jump-starting our energy use, both for residential and commercial uses,”  Garagiola said. “It’s clearly a good, clean renewable form of energy that is going to save ratepayers on their electric bills … in the not too distant future.”

In a worst case scenario, ratepayers statewide would have to cover $185 million, not the $890 million “hidden tax” that was originally estimated by opponents. Garagiola consistently defended the bill’s financial impact to customers as “pennies per month.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, led the charge the bill that requires more recycled material. Under the new law, all state agencies must submit a recycling and composting plan, and almost exclusively buy recycled paper.

“I’m thrilled. It makes the Maryland state government a national leader in showing how the government itself can be a force for environmental change in its contracting and purchasing and requisitions,” said Raskin, who was the lead sponsor of the bill. “We want to demonstrate that everybody in the economy has to be serious about reducing, reusing and recycling. Maryland is proving itself today to be the greenest state in the union. We are willing to put our own money and our own effort where our mouth is.”