Decarbonizing the Grid and Plugging in Our Cars

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Done right, decarbonizing electricity and plugging in our cars is fiscally responsible and environmentally sound for Baltimore County.

Baltimore County and Maryland would be best served by an energy policy that shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Along with the Maryland Climate Coalition, Colleen agrees that at least 50 percent of Maryland’s Electricity should come from renewable sources by 2030. Progress so far has been stymied, but Colleen supports the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative and others in saying that the threat to our planet and to our state is too great to wait any longer to find solutions to global warming, energy insecurity, and the economy of the future. As leaders in the field of renewable energy, Baltimore County and the state of Maryland can become both attractive for businesses, sources for good high-paying jobs and a model for how to thrive in our rapidly warming world.

Background

Maryland has adopted a goal to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% by 2030. Electricity consumption and transportation together contribute over 70% of the state’s GHG emissions. The same fossil fuel combustion that produces this carbon pollution also degrades our air quality and public health. Baltimore County has received an “F” grade from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution — a significant contributor to childhood asthma and other lung and heart diseases.

Maryland law requires the utilities to obtain an annually increasing percentage of their electricity from clean sources such as solar energy. This has created a market for the development of large-scale commercial facilities to generate solar energy to sell to the utilities.

In 2017, Baltimore County Council passed Bill No. 37-17, which allows developers/landowners to petition the county for a special exception to develop up to 10 “solar farms,” each with a capacity of 2 megawatts (MW), in certain rural and commercial zoning districts in each of the 7 council districts. A number of petitions are currently under review. The concern in Council District 3 is that the proposals involve large ground-mounted solar arrays on farm land, making it unavailable for most agricultural uses and considered by some to be inconsistent with the rural character of the north county. The law requires the Planning Board to evaluate the law’s impacts in consultation with DEPS, CEQ, Valleys Planning Council and Sierra Club and to submit any recommended changes to the law by July 1, 2018.

Maryland law also allows homes, farms and businesses to generate solar energy for their own onsite use and to “net meter” a portion of any excess generation back to the grid.  A growing number of homeowners, farmers and businesses in Baltimore County are installing solar photovoltaic (PV) collectors to reduce their electricity bills and become energy self-sufficient and non-polluting. This is permitted under the county’s zoning law. While typically mounted on rooftops and other impervious surfaces such as the parking lot canopies at the county’s three CCBC campuses, these installations may also be ground-mounted to generate electricity for onsite residential or farming operations.

At the same time that Maryland is greening its electricity grid, it has become a national leader in providing incentives for its residents to own, drive and charge non-polluting, plug-in electric cars. Federal and state tax credits of up to $10,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle (EV), rebates for EV charging equipment, and lower operating costs make the life-cycle costs of EVs lower than comparable cars with internal combustion engines (ICEs). Maryland has partnered with 11 other states to seed the buildout of public EV charging stations throughout the mid-Atlantic/Northeast corridor to make both local and interstate travel feasible and convenient. Baltimore County has benefitted from this program with state-funded charging stations at transit connections such as the Lutherville Light Rail station park & ride and the White Marsh commuter bus parking lot. The county has the opportunity to continue to build this growing charging network.

EVs like most cars spend most of their time at the driver’s residence. This is where most charging occurs, typically overnight. However, drivers without garages or dedicated charging stations at their townhouse, condo or apartment can’t do this. For many of them, workplace charging is an important gateway to EV ownership since their car is typically parked there for 8 hours a day.

What can we do? 

Colleen believes the county should build on its current programs to reduce its carbon footprint and improve air quality in government operations.

Examples include:

  • Increase energy efficiency targets for county facilities and benchmark energy usage to measure progress.
  • Increase solar power purchase agreements for county facilities.
  • Adopt a purchasing target to replace an increasing percentage of county fleet vehicles with electric vehicles each year.
  • Install charging stations at county government facilities for employees and the public, taking advantage of the state rebate program.
  • The county should also support community programs that promote energy efficiency, renewable energy and electric vehicle charging in suitable locations.

Examples include:

  • Work with state, private sector and NGOs to increase participation in existing programs that provide home and business energy audits and energy retrofits at reduced costs.
  • Work with energy efficiency audit/retrofit companies, solar installers and other green businesses in the county to train and hire employees with barriers to employment through the state’s EARN program. Baltimore County has the second highest number of solar businesses in the state but none of them currently participates in EARN.
  • Track recommendations of study group established under county’s solar facilities law (CB 37-17)—to be submitted to county executive and council by July 1, 2018— and work toward developing siting and scaling criteria for commercial facilities that balance the farmer’s need to make a viable living with the need to preserve the rural and scenic character of North County. Properly sited and scaled installations, e.g. on farmland that is marginal for cultivation, with appropriate screening and setbacks from public roads and neighboring properties, can help diversify vegetation which creates pollinator and wildlife habitats, promoting soil conservation and water quality benefits from year-round ground cover and reduced fertilizer and pesticide runoff, and reducing groundwater demands from irrigation.
  • Provide outreach and education to county residents and businesses on tax incentives and reduced utility bills from installing solar panels on rooftops and other impervious surfaces and installing solar hot water heaters.
  • Increase funding for the county’s Energy Conservation Device Tax Credit. Applications for the tax credit exceed the current budget of $750,000 per year, creating a backlog of at least 3 years for county residents who want to take advantage of it.
  • Partner with large employers in the county to educate employees and other employers on the benefits and how-to’s of EV workplace charging and to install chargers in workplace parking facilities. These can include inexpensive 110V outlets that provide a “trickle charge” over an 8 hour period.
  • Partner with Main Street businesses to install chargers to promote EV tourism.
  • Partner with car dealers to offer EV “ride and drive” opportunities to county residents and provide “EV basics” on the tax incentives and lower cost of ownership and the how-to’s of EV charging.
  • Build on the existing public charging network by installing chargers at more transit connections, government facilities and population centers.