O’Malley expected to propose aggressive new standards for renewable energy use

Source: By Steven Mufson, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013

Brian Witte/AP - Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to propose more ambitious targets for renewable energy use in a speech on climate change on Thursday.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will propose more-ambitious targets for renewable-energy use in a speech on climate change Thursday, according to people who have seen drafts of his plan.

O’Malley is expected to propose boosting the state’s renewable portfolio standard, requiring utilities to make renewables 25 percent of their mix of electricity generation by 2020, up from the current target of 20 percent by 2022.

The new standards would place Maryland alongside California as one of the most aggressive states in the country when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases, which scientists say are speeding climate change.

In a speech at the conference center at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore, the governor is also expected to propose changing the definition of renewable energy so that a paper pulping byproduct known as black liquor would not qualify. In keeping with an agreement with other Northeast states participating in a cap-and-trade program, he also plans to vow to enforce a 2.5-percent-a-year reduction in the allowable carbon emissions from coal plants.

O’Malley, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid, will also tiptoe into the debate over the oil and gas drilling technique known as fracking. Like New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), O’Malley has imposed a moratorium so far because of environmental concerns, even though burning natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal

In the speech Thursday, O’Malley plans to warn that leaks of more than 3 percent of methane, the potent greenhouse gas that makes up natural gas, as a result of the drilling process would eliminate the climate benefits of burning gas instead of coal.

O’Malley is also expected to set tougher energy-efficiency goals. He is required by state law to come up with a plan to reduce the state’s annual greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020. The state’s environment agency issued a draft plan last year, but this one is tougher, environmental activists say.

“O’Malley’s climate plan is very strong and appropriate for Maryland’s climate vulnerability,” said Mike Tidwell, head of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “It is a plan that should be adopted by other coastal states across the country given the quick pace of climate change and the slow pace of action on Capitol Hll.”

Maryland has seven coal-fired power plants, the state’s main source of carbon dioxide emissions. The state imports about 35 percent of its electricity. Coal’s share of overall electricity production in Maryland was just over 40 percent last year, down from more than half a couple of years earlier.