Job Losses Expected As Maryland Governor Stuns Solar Industry With Clean Energy Veto

Less than two months after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill in support of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, he vetoed a plan to increase a mandate on renewable energy use. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/GAIL BURTON
Less than two months after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill in support of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, he vetoed a plan to increase a mandate on renewable energy use. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/GAIL BURTON

For the past 12 years, Maryland has had a highly successful program requiring utilities to use more renewable energy. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s own Dept. of Environment last fall said the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) was creating thousands of jobs and would create billions in economic activity by 2020. In April, the governor signaled his own commitment to clean energy, signing the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act.

And then last week, Hogan reversed course and vetoed a bill that would have increased the RPS and given the state a way to reach its greenhouse gas emissions goals.

“It was infuriating,” Maryland Delegate Bill Frick, who sponsored the Clean Energy Jobs bill, told ThinkProgress.

I think this was about partisanship and pointing fingers, which is the only thing Larry Hogan knows how to do

The bill would have increased the state’s RPS from 20 percent by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020.

Clean energy is remarkably popular in Maryland. According to a poll conducted in April, 71 percent of voters in the state supported the Clean Energy Jobs bill, even if it would add 50 cents to their utility bill.

“Maryland is a state that is particularly susceptible to the effects of sea level rise. It’s a state that understands the risk of climate change, and it’s a state that is seeing the benefits of clean jobs,” Frick said.

In 2014, renewable energy, including solar, wind, and hydro, accounted for only 7 percent of the state’s electricity generation, but the growth in solar, particularly, has been noteworthy: There are 4,300 people working in solar in Maryland, which was 11th in installed capacity last year, according to the national Solar Energy Industries Association.

CREDIT: Solar Energy Industries Association
CREDIT: Solar Energy Industries Association

Clean energy advocates immediately warned that the veto would damage the solar industry. Business loves certainty, and Hogan’s veto sent a loud message to investors that Maryland’s commitment to solar is not guaranteed.

“This veto puts thousands of solar jobs and hundreds of local companies at risk,” Omar Terrie, Policy Director for the local industry group MDV-SEIA, said in a statement. “Moreover, this veto endangers the livelihood of thousands of Marylanders and will stall millions in economic investment.”

This veto puts thousands of solar jobs and hundreds of local companies at risk

The state has more people working in solar than it does in its iconic crabbing industry, Frick said.

“I think this was about partisanship and pointing fingers, which is the only thing Larry Hogan knows how to do,” he said. “The guy has no vision, no leadership. It’s just attack Democrats, retreat, and repeat. And that’s all he does.”

Frick said the governor’s office “never engaged” with the legislature when the bill was being written, and “just came with the veto pen and after-the-fact criticism.”

In a letter to the General Assembly explaining the veto, Hogan called the RPS a “tax” on ratepayers.

“This legislation is a tax increase that will be levied upon every single electricity ratepayer in Maryland and, for that reason alone, I cannot allow it to become law,” Hogan wrote.

“That’s absurd,” Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, told ThinkProgress.

Tidwell pointed out that the original RPS legislation was enacted by another Republican, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2004. “Did Hogan think Bob Ehrlich unleashed a tax on Maryland?” Tidwell asked.  According to analysis from the Regional Economic Studies Institute, cited by Hogan’s own administration, Maryland’s RPS programs will support at least 3,500 jobs by 2020 and roughly $6.5 billion in economic output. Under the proposed bill, residential customers could see their electricity bills rise by as little as 8 cents/month (2017) up to a potential peak of between 77 cents and $3/month by 2020, before falling again to somewhere around $1/month from 2022 and on.

“We have 12 years of data on how well the RPS works,” Tidwell said.

In fact, under the RPS and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Maryland is well on its way to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s rule to decrease carbon emissions from the electricity sector, which accounts for a third of the country’s emissions. RGGI has also been credited with boosting the economy of the participating Northeastern states.

The Northeast’s Electricity Bills Have Dropped $460 Million Since They Started Paying For CarbonA regional cap-and-trade program has added $1.3 billion in economic activity to nine New England and Mid-Atlantic…thinkprogress.orgTidwell said the recent veto was both unexpected and unwelcome.

“[Hogan] has energized a community to organize to overthrow the veto,” he said. “A community that had previously — myself included — been giving him a lot of credit.”

The Clean Energy Jobs bill, which previously passed both chambers with enough votes to overturn the veto, is expected to resurface in January, when the General Assembly returns to session.

Last year, the General Assembly overturned five Hogan vetoes.