Maryland Approves Wide-Ranging Clean Energy Bills
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed a package of energy bills on April 24 that will set new renewable energy requirements for the state, institute utility energy efficiency programs, and offer new funding and incentives for clean energy. House Bill (HB) 375 more than doubles the state's requirements for renewable power, requiring 20% of the state's electricity to be produced from renewable energy by 2022. Compared to previous legislation, the new law slows the growth in the so-called renewable portfolio standard (RPS) over the next several years, then accelerates it starting in 2011. It still maintains a requirement for 2% of the state's power to come from solar energy by 2011.
On the energy efficiency side, HB 374 establishes a state goal of achieving a 15% reduction in per capita electricity use and peak demand by the end of 2015. The bill requires the state's utilities to implement energy efficiency programs and tasks the Maryland Public Service Commission with tracking progress toward the goal. In addition, HB 376 requires buildings constructed or renovated solely with state funds to meet tough green building standards, equivalent to a silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. The governor also approved HB 373, which encourages transit-oriented development. See the related press release from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
In terms of funding and incentives, HB 368 establishes the Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Fund, which combines utility fees for noncompliance with the RPS along with proceeds from the sale of greenhouse gas allowances under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The fund will invest in a wide range of clean energy projects and programs. HB 377 increases the grants under the Solar Energy Grant Program, which now offers grants of $2,500 per kilowatt of solar electric power, capped at $10,000, and 30% of the cost of solar water heating systems, capped at $3,000. It also enhances the Geothermal Heat Pump Grant Program, which now offers grants of $1,000 per ton of cooling capacity, capped at $3,000 for residential systems and $10,000 for nonresidential systems. The bill, which takes effect on July 1, also exempts solar energy equipment and geothermal heat pumps from sales and use taxes and exempts solar energy equipment from local property taxes. Finally, HB 117 creates easements for solar energy systems to prevent projects that would block the sunlight. It also prohibits unreasonable restrictions on solar energy systems, such as homeowner association covenants against their installation. See the governor's press release.