Biomass plays critical role in Maryland’s renewable energy portfolio

Mar 08, 2016
By Jim Strong
United Steelworkers Union Sub-District Director

Proposed legislation in Maryland intended to promote clean energy is short-sighted, ill advised and will undermine our state’s efforts to produce and use more renewable energy. Residents deserve to know the rest of the story before their elected officials make a decision of this magnitude. 

The truth is that this legislation will harm Maryland jobs and have unintended consequences for the environment. The bills – House Bill 1287 and Senate Bill 867– would phase out renewable energy sources, which generally are not intermittent like wind and solar and therefore help maintain grid reliability in the region, on top of proposing to expand the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 25 percent by 2020 from 20 percent by 2022.

The United Steelworkers Union opposes H.B. 1287 and S.B. 867 because we believe this legislation would undermine the purposes of Maryland’s original RPS legislation to: (1) recognize the economic, environmental, fuel diversity and security benefits of renewable energy sources; (2) establish a market in Maryland for electricity from these resources; and (3) lower the cost to consumers. The legislation also will harm manufacturing jobs in Western Maryland and in other locations around the state and is unnecessary to accomplish the bill sponsors’ objectives.

Manufacturing facilities such as the Luke Paper Company in Western Maryland provide family-wage jobs and benefits that cannot be replaced easily, if at all. Moreover, they provide economic benefits for communities through suppliers, service providers, educational resources and tax payments. The pulp and paper manufacturing supply chain contributes nearly 3,500 high-paying jobs in Maryland and makes over $1 billion in industry products annually.

Carbon neutral biomass plays a critical role in Maryland’s renewable energy portfolio by providing low-cost baseload energy that benefits consumers and enhances the reliability of renewable energy. Removing biomass and other resources from the RPS as these bills call for would eliminate over 50 percent of the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that were used for compliance in 2014. Doing so while REC demand is increasing would raise the price of the remaining RECs and increase electricity costs for Maryland consumers – not to mention what would result if the state adopts other legislation proposing to increase the RPS to 25 percent by 2020. Neighboring states (Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio) benefit from paper mill biomass energy in their REC programs as do many other states across the country; Maryland should too.   

Renewable energy policies are important for Maryland’s future, especially near the Luke mill and other locations across the state that would be affected by the legislation removing these renewable sources of energy. Such resources should be part of the state’s programs for tradable RECs, because they help to provide Maryland ratepayers with the lowest cost renewable energy that displace fossil fuel use. What’s more, biomass is a reliable baseload energy source that complements intermittent sources like wind and solar. Wind energy continues to grow in states like Maryland, so there is no reason to eliminate the energy-rich biomass by-product from the papermaking process called “black liquor.” In fact, black liquor dropped from 43 percent of Tier I compliance in 2010 to 30 percent in 2014, while wind grew from just 1 percent to 28 percent.

The forest products industry has continuously invested in its facilities to increase their efficiency, use of renewable energy and state-of-the-art environmental technology.  Maryland should encourage these investments in the future, not penalize them. As drafted, the legislation would damage these investments and the jobs they support.

Many paper products, including those at the Luke mill, are subject to intense international competition including from countries that recognize and reward biomass as an important part of their energy portfolio. If we want our paper products to be made in America, then the legislature should not adopt H.B. 1287 or S.B. 867.

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