ANNAPOLIS — Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird waited for hours this week to testify on a bill that could have a major financial impact on his community.
When his turn finally arrived, he spoke in support of legislation that — if it isn’t approved and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — could eventually cost Thurmont and its residents up to $250,000.
That law mandates a statewide solar energy requirement of 14.5 percent by 2030, except for electrical cooperatives, which would be capped at 2.5 percent. House Bill 494 adds municipal electric utility companies — which exist in Thurmont, Hagerstown, Berlin, Williamsport and Easton, to that 2.5 percent cap. House Bill 418 is similar, but specifically carves Thurmont into that provision.
Del. Dan Cox said after Thursday’s hearing the latter bill is to protect Thurmont, in case other municipalities along the Eastern Shore decide to combat the issue differently. He said it also shows that the delegation voted unanimously in support of the proposal, which hopefully helps its chances of getting through the House of Delegates.
Kinnaird said before the hearing that meeting the state’s original goal for solar energy would be difficult, and at worst, could cost the town up to $250,000.
“You put that over 2,000-plus residences, and it really makes a big impact,” he said. Thurmont’s population, according to recent U.S. Census estimates, is just over 6,600.
Another challenge is the town doesn’t have much room to construct solar arrays to meet the solar energy goal, Kinnaird said. That would cost the town millions of dollars, which would need to be paid through a bond process, he said.
“That’s the problem with small municipalities, we don’t have any large space that we could put a solar field in,” Kinnaird said. “And then if you did, you’re looking at a seven, eight, nine million dollar investment in a solar field ... over the period of 10 years, it may be economical to put in a solar field, if we had the location and if we had the funding to do it.”
Kinnaird was flanked by other supporters at Thursday’s hearing, including Gee Williams, Berlin’s mayor. Williams said that, like Thurmont, the only way for Berlin to comply with the state’s mandate would be to buy solar renewable energy certificates — but the cost has increased substantially in the past year.
Williams estimated the town’s cost in those certificates would jump from $8,000 to $40,000 in the next fiscal year, and then more than $200,000 in ensuing years.
The town is not opposed to renewable and green energy, Williams said. In 2012, Berlin became the first municipality in Maryland to be certified under the Sustainable Maryland Certified program.
That program recognizes communities statewide for their efforts to practice sustainability and “go green” with their energy sources, according to the program’s website.
“No one is holding a gun to our heads. We are doing both what is environmentally responsible and fiscally prudent,” Williams said.
Sens. Ron Young (D-Frederick) and Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) have also filed Senate Bill 559, a cross-file to House Bill 418. A brief hearing was held Friday in the Senate Finance Committee.
At that hearing, Chris Simms, a principal at Smart Utility Management — a firm that provides consulting for solar and other renewable energy utilities statewide — also noted the rising cost of solar energy certificates. He said Hough and Young’s bill is to allow Thurmont to be looped in with the 2.5 percent cap given to other energy cooperatives statewide.
The Senate Finance Committee’s staff read written testimony Friday from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which opposes Hough and Young’s bill because it “erodes” the renewable energy standard set by the Clean Energy Jobs Act.
But Kinnaird said his town’s cooperation with Hagerstown and Williamsport should allow him and his residents to be on par with the energy cooperatives statewide.
“As a small municipal electric company works in conjunction with two electric companies cooperatively to keep our price as low as possible, I think we should be afforded the same protection,” he said.