When my fiancée and I bought our house in late 2021, there were two projects we wanted to tackle right away, both of which required paying a plumber.

First, we wanted to replace and upgrade our sump pump. The second was replacing part of our gas furnace. Our home inspector recommended replacing a flexible hose with a metal one that wouldn’t deteriorate and cause a gas leak.

That got us thinking about other gas lines in our house. We already had solar panels on our roof. Should we replace some of our appliances?

So far, we’ve replaced our gas oven with an electric oven with an induction cooktop. It was an easy decision: gas cooktops are linked to environmental pollution and health issues such as asthma, gas appliances contribute to climate change and, because of the already-paid-for solar panels on our roof, electricity is cheaper for us than gas.

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Since then, we’ve discussed replacing our water heater and dryer and, one day, maybe installing a heat pump to replace the furnace. But even with our solar panels, there are some significant costs to upgrades and replacements.

For just the oven, we paid $750 to electricians to install a new breaker and power outlet; $1,330 for the oven itself, as well as delivery and installation; and $150 to a plumber to cap the gas line. A total cost exceeding $2,000 isn’t insurmountable for us, thankfully, but it’s not what I would call a pleasant amount of money to spend.

Good news for us (and anyone considering electrification) if we decide to replace other appliances: Maryland lawmakers are exploring legislation that would subsidize the cost of these kinds of upgrades.

The first piece of legislation, introduced by Sen. Karen Lewis Young, a Democrat from Frederick, would change how EmPOWER Maryland measures success and create incentives and rebates for residential electrification upgrades.

EmPOWER is a state program that was created in 2008 to reduce electricity use, largely through energy efficiency. It’s managed by utility companies and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

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This legislation would change the program’s goal to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, instead of reducing electricity use, beginning in 2024. It says electric and gas companies must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 2% compared to 2016 levels by each year, for a cumulative reduction of at least 14% by 2031. Those goals only could be met by switching fuels and weatherization.

It would also help Marylanders replace gas appliances in their home.

“The bill requires utilities provide incentives for fuel switching and efficient electric appliances, which will open up access for the use of federal dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act,” Lewis Young said during a hearing for the bill.

A nonpartisan analysis of the bill also says that it would require the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to take specific actions in implementing the EmPOWER Maryland program, such as promoting switching to electric power and establishing government-issued rebates for electrification upgrades.

One thing the bill would not do is ban the use of gas ovens in homes, or any other fossil fuel appliances.

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It would incentivize electric appliances, and would end incentives for fossil fuel appliances, but it would not ban them outright. Montgomery County has banned gas appliances in most new buildings.

EmPOWER rebates are run through utility companies. As a Baltimore Gas and Electric Company customer, for example, I could get rebates on lighting, heating and cooling systems and some appliances. The website does not list, for example, any rebates for switching from a gas stove to an electric stove.

Under the new bill, utility companies would have to offer rebates for that sort of fuel switching, said Emily Scarr, director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group. She testified in favor of the bill.

“It remains absolutely critical that the program stays true to its goals, which is to return benefits to rate payers,” she said during her testimony.

Molly Knoll, a policy adviser for the Public Service Commission, testified against the Lewis Young bill. In her testimony, she said the commission opposed the bill due to a combination of its “ambitious goals and program restraints.” She said the restrictions on gas appliances in the bill would keep Maryland from accessing federal rebates for them, too.

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Sen. Brian J. Feldman, who chairs the Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee, introduced another bill targeting EmPOWER reform that would require the Department of Housing and Community Development to submit a detailed plan to the Public Service Commission on how to achieve electricity savings. It would also have to develop a plan to find funding for health and safety upgrades, energy efficiency, weatherization and other maintenance for low-income housing.

The bill would establish a task force to advance “green and healthy housing” for low-income households in Maryland and develop policy and regulatory recommendations to make it easier for low-income households to be healthy, energy-efficient and affordable.

It would also require the Department of Housing and Community Development to make a plan to provide energy efficiency retrofits to all low-income households in Maryland by 2031.

According to a report from the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, limited-income programs through EmPOWER have helped 47,476 households as of 2021, but there are nearly 590,000 households in Maryland that count as limited income.

In a hearing for the bill, Feldman said low-income Marylanders pay a higher percentage of their income toward utility bills, yet have some of the lowest participation in EmPOWER programs.

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A spokesperson for Gov. Wes Moore said in an email the governor “strongly supports” EmPOWER and is working with legislators on the details of the bills.

cody.boteler@thebaltimorebanner.com

Cody Boteler a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others. 

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