Thurmont residents could see their electric bills increase because of a new state law, but town officials are trying to fight back.
The town plans to partner with other communities in Maryland that also sell electricity to their residents to fight for a change to the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a state law enacted in May by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that increases how much electricity sold in Maryland is required to come from renewable resources.
Before the change, the state’s utilities were required to source 25 percent of their power supply from renewable resources. Of that 25 percent, at least 2.5 percent needed to come from solar-generated resources. The state’s utilities now have to source half of their power supply from renewable resources, 14.5 percent of that from solar resources.
“It gradually increases, but essentially it needs to be at that level by 2030,” Chris Sims, owner of Smart Utility Management, a consulting firm for municipal electric utilities in Ocean City, said at Thurmont’s last town meeting.
The increase worries Thurmont officials and how it will affect residents.
Renewable energy credits (RECs), the currency used to buy and sell renewable energy, increased from $10 per megawatt-hour to $60 per megawatt-hour in 2019. Thurmont uses 83,000 megawatt-hours a year, according to Sims.
Because of the increase, Thurmont’s costs for solar renewable energy credits will rise by $250,000 to $320,000 a year.
Although the bill states that all utilities are required to source more renewable energy, the two cooperative energy nonprofits in the state — Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative and Choptank Electric Cooperative — were exempt from the bill and kept their credit requirement at 2.5 percent.
Some town commissioners argued that the five municipalities that sell electricity — Thurmont, Williamsport, Hagerstown, Berlin and Easton — should get the same exemption.
“What we need to do is get our state delegation on this immediately for us,” Thurmont Commissioner Martin Burns said. “We need them in here. ... And we need to lobby to change the law to add us as part of that.
“It’s really upsetting to me,” he added. “Here we have the second cheapest electric rate in the state of Maryland today, and yet we’re going to be driven out of business. This is not sustainable. It’s just really upsetting to me to force us to have to do this.”
He believed that the bill should allow residents in Thurmont to use rooftop solar panels and that the town should get “some sort of credit” for the reduction.
“If the residents choose to do it, they save money, which reduces the demand for using [electricity],” he said.
But if the town did source half of its electricity from renewable resources, the increase to a resident’s electric bill “would probably be pennies a month per customer,” according to Mayor John Kinnaird.
“We have about $6 million in electric revenue [per year],” Kinnaird said. “So if you took $300,000 out of $6 million, that’s 5 percent. If you had a $200 electric bill, it would be $210.”
But to keep Thurmont’s renewable energy credit rate at 2.5 percent, Sims suggested that the town work with the four other municipalities in the state. If all of them could band together, they’d have a better chance of getting the same treatment that the cooperatives have, he said.
He added that Easton wants to work together to lobby for the cause, but that it wants the backing of the other four municipalities.
“I’m optimistic that the state Legislature will recognize the fact that they’re punishing our communities specifically,” Kinnaird said. “And that they’ll change the laws to accommodate the municipalities that sell electric.”