A few months ago, Larry Hogan fired four top environmental officials on a Friday night. This week, he pulled a similar stunt on a Thursday night. The end result is the same – weakening Maryland’s commitment to energy efficiency. And nobody seems to have noticed. Well played sir.
The Hogan administration is shaking up the Maryland Energy Administration, firing two senior managers, moving the agency from Annapolis to Baltimore and taking a stand against raising utility customers’ electricity bills to expand energy-efficiency programs.
The personnel and policy changes worry environmentalists, who say they fear the Republican administration is weakening or abandoning efforts started by its Democratic predecessor to clean the air and fight climate change with programs that they say would ultimately save ratepayers money.
The MEA has 32 full time employees, there’s seven vacancies (several of the 10 contractual positions are also vacant, but the agency website lists no job openings. Trying to kill the agency?
Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said environmentalists fear the Hogan administration is “whittling away” at the energy agency and subsuming it in the larger environment department.
“There’s a ton of reasons why having an energy administration is really important in Maryland as we move and transition to a clean-energy economy,” Raettig said.
The website does not list any job openings, but Mayer said anyone who questions whether the agency is being downsized is ‘jumping to conclusions.'”
Nothing to see here. Just a chalk outline of the body of an important agency, not yet cold.
In addition to the personnel massacre, the substantive policy “stand” is being taken right in the middle of PSC hearings on the state’s energy efficiency efforts. Every dollar spent on these efforts has returned $1.82 in benefits, per the PSC. Hogan now wants to stop increasing the commitment to this program because taxes.
“Given the Administration’s concern over authorizing new fees, surcharges and taxes on Maryland residents, we are unable to support the utilities request for new and additional costs above those already approved by the commission,” Williams wrote.
There’s a law calling for these efforts, the law works, but hey, that’s never stopped these guys before.
The state’s EmPOWER law, passed in 2008, called for a 15 percent reduction in per capita electricity usage by 2015. The state’s five utilities are required to offer programs and services intended to curb customers’ demand for electricity and natural gas, including rebates to add insulation, seal drafts in buildings and buy more energy-efficient lighting and appliances.
To help cover costs, utilities are allowed to levy surcharges on customers’ utility bills. The monthly charges for residential customers range between $3 and $5 for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity consumed, according to Marissa Gillett, senior adviser to the commission chairman.
Since the EmPOWER program began, the commission has determined that the overall benefits of energy-efficiency programs — lowering bills by reducing demand, and avoiding the need to build more power plants — have far outweighed the costs. In July, the commission ordered the effort continued and raised the energy-savings goal.
Spend a dollar, get back almost two in critical environmental benefits. Who wants to turn that down? Larry Hogan does. “Different kind of Republican”? Not even close.