The Maryland state legislature is making an effort to hasten the adoption of solar energy. As reported in the Maryland Reporter, the state senate last Friday, April 2, 2010, passed legislation requiring utility companies over the next few years, to purchase a higher percentage of their electricity from solar power than mandated in current law. The House of Delegates is scheduled to vote on the legislation in the coming weeks.
Currently, Maryland utility companies are required to obtain 2 percent of their power from solar energy sources by 2022. While the new legislation would not change these targets, the plan would shorten the timetable by doubling early year requirements and increasing the penalties for non-compliance.
The issue has become highly contentious on the legislative floor. The bill's supporters claim that accelerating solar energy mandates would incentivize the construction of large solar power plants in the state of Maryland. This would put the state government in a stronger position to leverage federal stimulus money, create jobs, and reduce its dependence on fossil fuel sources.
The bill's opponents argue that switching to solar energy prematurely would increase the electricity price for Maryland rate payers, amounting to what some are calling an energy tax.
According to a legislative analysis however, the law would only lead to modest increases in the electricity cost for consumers. In 2011, accelerating the shift to solar energy would only cost rate payers 3 cents more each month. Over the next 15 years, the monthly price increases could add $2 to an average monthly bill of $150. Additionally, promoting solar energy projects could have peripheral benefits like driving job growth or boosting local panel manufacturers. The Baltimore Sun reports:
The [bill's supporters] have countered that increasing the requirements would stimulate solar projects in the state, creating an estimated 640 jobs in the next seven years...
[They] pointed to the domino effect of increasing the solar requirement sooner rather than later.
With utility companies forced to buy solar energy, more solar production plants would be needed, which, in turn, will make it easier for would-be builders to obtain financing, said [Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration]. And those new sources of solar energy will drive down the cost that utility companies pay, meaning consumers will also pay less.
While the legislation still must come before the full House of Delegates, Maryland's focus on solar energy systems could make it a regional leader in renewable electricity generation.