GBC’s Fry: Facing Maryland electricity challenges

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Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

There was good news for Maryland in early August when the West Virginia Public Service Commission approved plans to build a 500-kilovolt electric transmission line through their state from Pittsburgh to Northern Virginia.

Why is that good news for Maryland? Because the new transmission line is an important first step toward easing congestion on the PJM power grid through which Maryland utilities import up to 30 percent of electricity used here. That grid congestion currently hampers Maryland’s access to less-expensive electricity generated in the Midwest.

Building new transmission lines is the fastest way to address potential electricity shortages in Maryland that experts warn could result in brownouts by 2012.

The West Virginia proceeding also provided a glimpse of opposition that typically confronts utilities’ efforts to build transmission infrastructure. Among other things, the West Virginia Sierra Club argued that utilities shouldn’t be allowed to build new transmission lines until they fully pursue all energy conservation efforts.

We need to reduce consumer use of electricity. But we also need new transmission infrastructure. These days, it’s not an option. It’s an economic necessity.

Meanwhile, Governor Martin O’Malley recently made his most expansive comments yet on energy policies he is considering.

Among other things, the governor proposed that the state consider ordering utilities in Maryland to either “find or build” new generation resources to address projected supply shortfalls.

He also proposed pooling government purchasing power to nurture the development of large-scale commercial renewable energy ventures. Other suggestions: build small, state-financed generating units in local jurisdictions for peak-hour use and partner with federal agencies in Maryland to access their generating resources during peak-demand periods.

The governor also supports more conservation assistance to low-income customers and the use of smart meters and smart pricing to reduce consumption.

Resolving our electricity challenges will require a combination of increasing transmission and generation resources, developing renewable energy, and conserving. Gov. O’Malley’s proposals merit consideration and scrutiny, keeping in mind that any new energy policy must pass one key test – is it compatible with market realities?

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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