GBC’s Fry: Framework for a Maryland energy strategy

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Last month, in commenting that our state lacks a strategy for funding transportation, I also noted that our elected leaders in Annapolis do not appear to have a sustainable long-term strategy for energy as well.

However unlike transportation, where lawmakers continue to raid transportation funds to balance Maryland’s operating budget, the issue of energy supply is at least on the radar at the State House.

The Maryland Energy Administration has drafted a substantial menu of options for energy conservation and new generation of renewable energy, some of which were incorporated into legislation passed this year. Meanwhile, the state’s Public Service Commission is examining options for re-regulating Maryland’s electric industry – an interesting exercise of questionable strategic value.

While energy issues are complicated, the state’s energy challenge is relatively straightforward. Maryland utilities cannot produce enough electricity to meet existing demand. More than 25 percent of electricity used in our state is imported from somewhere else. Meanwhile, the state’s energy infrastructure is showing its age.

To seriously address this challenge, lawmakers must grasp the reality that conservation and renewable energy mandates will not be enough to resolve our energy crisis. Maryland must add new transmission infrastructure by 2011 to increase its electricity importing capacity or face possible rolling brownouts. And we must adopt a strategic plan that includes construction of new efficient, environmentally compliant power plants.

Then, state lawmakers must enact policies that support the plan – policies that preferably allow the market to shift the construction cost burden to private investors and away from consumers.

I suggest a few basic principles for our energy strategy:

First, it must include state fiscal support for strengthening energy resources.

It must include policies that are clear, practical and achievable.

It must include metrics to measure success, and those metrics must be monitored.

Government leaders must assume accountability for the execution of the strategy.

Finally, if lawmakers have learned anything from deregulation legislation passed in 1999, they must adopt an energy strategy that is compatible with the realities of the marketplace.

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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