GBC’s Fry: Renewable energy development is policy-driven and incentive-sensitive

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Last month I reported that solar power is the early alternative-energy leader as Maryland works to meet its goal that 20 percent of energy used here be from renewable sources by 2022.

Wide availability of well-developed solar equipment, coupled with government incentives, is what makes solar energy the front runner. Here’s a brief update on three other developing alternative-energy sources and challenges they face.

Wind power has potential. For instance, Maryland now imports about 5,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity from Illinois and could, theoretically, import substantially more affordable wind-generated electricity from America’s Midwest “wind belt.” But the politics of building transmission lines to get large amounts of inexpensive wind energy to us from the Midwest are problematic. “Good wind” is available in Maryland’s western mountains and offshore. However, federal permitting and a messy state project approval process makes any significant local wind energy generation at least five years away, say experts.

Researchers are working to develop biofuels from many sources, including plant oils and animal fats. Biofuel developers say a big challenge for them is gaining access to existing government incentives. Many innovative new biofuel molecules don’t precisely fit narrow government criteria for tax credits, say experts who advocate for more flexible incentives.

Battery-powered electric vehicles are beginning to emerge into the Maryland market. A new law signed last month by Governor O’Malley waives up to $2,000 in excise taxes on the purchase of an electric vehicle. The state also has $1 million in stimulus-funded grant money to help build public facilities around the state for recharging electric vehicles to encourage their use.

There is clearly market-driven, private-sector enthusiasm in Maryland for developing alternative energy sources. It’s also clear that government incentives and policies play a key role. Our elected leaders must, therefore, work diligently to ensure that energy policies encourage, rather than inhibit, this important development process.

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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