To his credit, Gov. Wes Moore has set remarkably ambitious goals for the state. Among those are having Maryland generate 100% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2035. Even that is on the low end of what he says he wants to achieve: He’s argued that Maryland should become a net producer of alternative energy.
These are laudable goals. The tricky part, however, isn’t why we must meet these goals. Just a few blocks from the State House, after all, the U.S. Naval Academy is reportedly spending $37 million on a sea wall to protect from sea level rise. The tricky part is how will we achieve these goals.
How do we build the infrastructure to generate that kind of alternative energy? How do we develop the workforce to build it? And, as I represent a district that is more than 72% Black, how do we ensure that the benefits of this transition to clean energy flow to everyone?
How do we leave no one behind?
We can start by doing more of what already works. We must make the Community Solar Pilot Program permanent and, indeed, use it as a building block toward meeting Moore’s goals.
The Community Solar Pilot Program has been a huge success. Going into its seventh and final year, it has spurred the more than 400 megawatts of community solar projects operating or under development in Maryland. By the end of the year, it will be serving about 90,000 Marylanders.
Yet, pilots end. This one sunsets in 2024.
Allowing it to do so would be an unacceptable blunder. The market momentum for building solar capacity would shudder to a halt. Roughly 95% of the state’s investor-owned utilities customers will not have an option for offsite solar. Even with the Inflation Reduction Act set to empower billions of dollars of federal tax incentives for renewable energy, Maryland will have lost one of its best tools to capitalize on that funding. Marylanders would lose jobs and economic opportunity.
And, most of all, Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions would go up, even as we desperately need them to go down.
I strongly hope and expect that the Maryland legislature will not let that happen. My colleagues and I have introduced HB0908 to prevent such an outcome — the bill would make the pilot program permanent, ensuring customers have access to clean energy and enabling investors to build more solar capacity.
Yet, we have learned from the years of the pilot, so the new bill pushes the program further. It requires at least 40% of every project’s capacity to be set aside for low- and middle-income households, so the families who most need a break on their energy bills are able to secure them. It also incentivizes building solar capacity wherever it makes sense to do so, be it rooftops, brownfields or any other site where development has already begun.
The General Assembly must pass this legislation.
To be clear, the measure does not answer all the how questions. While it can power a lot of homes, create a lot of jobs, save low-income folks a lot of money and prevent a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, it is only a down payment on the robust solar commitment our state needs. If we are going to meet Moore’s challenge to us, we are going to need to send legislation to his desk that creates 100,000 new, good-paying clean energy jobs by 2030; accelerates the use of home solar and batteries to support our grid; and deploys at least 500 megawatts of clean power (or enough to power over 300,000 homes) to drive down the electric bills of lower-income Marylanders. Such legislation would create enormous economic opportunity, so we must ensure that all Marylanders get to share in its benefits.
It is our duty to send that legislation to the governor no later than the next legislative session. The planet is rapidly approaching a point of no return.
Yet, the fact that we must do more in the future is no excuse to do nothing right now. Maryland can prove that we do not need to choose between renewable energy and equity, but rather that the two can reinforce each other. We can prove that the energy transition is not a cost, but an opportunity. Most of all, we can take one small step toward making the planet inhabitable for our children and grandchildren.
There is no excuse not to.
Stephanie Smith represents the 45th District in the Maryland House of Delegates and is the assistant director for equity, engagement and communications at the Baltimore City Department of Planning.