Reclaiming Maryland’s Clean Energy Future

Maryland has entered into an exciting new chapter in its history. A new administration that values environmental justice gives us hope for a brighter and cleaner future. However, in order to make such progress, Maryland must fix its dirty past by creating real solutions instead of false ones. Since the Maryland Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was created in 2004, the energy sources counted as “renewable” have gotten dirtier and dirtier – harming communities of color already overburdened with pollution and diminishing Maryland’s chances of cleaning up our grid to act on the climate crisis. In order to create real solutions, Maryland must clean up its Renewable Portfolio Standard and put clean energy subsidies where they belong: truly renewable, emission-free energy. 

The Reclaim Renewable Energy Act (SB590/HB718) will accomplish this goal by ensuring Maryland’s RPS supports the development of clean energy sources like wind and solar while cutting out language that allows polluting fuel sources like municipal waste incinerators and utility-scale biogas digesters to qualify for support from utility company ratepayers. For example, Baltimore’s trash incinerator, which emits toxic air pollution just blocks away from people’s homes, is considered “clean” energy under this program. This so-called “clean” energy source costs residents of our region $55 million annually in health damages disparately affecting predominantly low income communities of color nearby. 

Large-scale biogas, one of the dirtiest sources on the RPS, is primarily methane but can also include other gasses like carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide and is produced when organic material like farm animal waste breaks down. The gas itself is comparable to fracked natural gas, causing similar environmental harm. Research estimates 2 to 4 percent of methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, is lost to the atmosphere in leaks during biogas production; in some cases, up to 15 percent. However, energy companies and the agricultural industry promote any non-fossil-fuel methane as “renewable” despite its climate impacts. Since the construction of “biogas” facilities is extremely costly, they are generally not profitable without subsidies and incentives.

Subsidizing dirty energy and pushing the expansion of biogas facilities and related pipelines would harm local waterways and create a waste stream that is not well suited for the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Digestate, a byproduct of anaerobic digestion, contains concentrated nutrients like phosphorus, and is harmful when applied as a fertilizer in areas with already high soil phosphorus levels due to overapplication of poultry manure. To make matters worse, the nutrients in this digestate can be rendered more water soluble than those in unprocessed chicken litter, yet it is often spread on fields as fertilizer, where it runs off into rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. A 2019 report by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources found that Maryland RPS sources actually had worse pollution profiles than non-RPS generation in the years since 2010, due to the eligibility of dirty energy sources such as biogas and poultry litter. Ultimately, subsidizing pollution in the name of clean energy deceives Marylanders who believe they are paying to decarbonize their power supply.

Maryland’s current RPS goal is 50% renewable energy by 2030, and Governor Moore has pledged to reach 100% renewable energy by 2035. This goal cannot be achieved by subsidizing dirty energy sources that do nothing to help Maryland combat the climate crisis. It is time for all Marylanders, especially those in overburdened communities, to not be forced to bear the burden of dirty energy as many of these facilities pollute their neighborhoods. 

Maryland’s future seems bright, but by supporting the Reclaim Renewable Energy Act, we can ensure that it is also clean.