Maryland's Dirty "Renewable Energy" Bills

Chart showing that most of the "renewable" energy used to meet Maryland's renewable energy mandate is dirty energy, from smokestack technologies.

Maryland's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is one of the nation's dirtiest renewable energy mandates. Over the lifetime of this mandate, the majority of the Tier I "renewable" energy came from smokestack sources: the burning of trash, trees, black liquor (toxic paper mill waste), wood waste, and toxic landfill gases.

From 2006 through 2015, Maryland ratepayers have paid $125 million to subsidize these polluting energy sources. In 2015, this amount was $47 million and it keeps rising.

Since the start, in 2003, we testified in Annapolis and warned and begged Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and other enviro groups not to include so many incineration technologies in the RPS. Looking back, over a decade later, we get to say "I told you so" as we see that polluting smokestack technologies have been the majority of the state's renewable energy mix in every year, except in 2013 and 2016, when they dipped down to just 44% and 45% respectively.

Percentage of Maryland Tier I Renewable Energy mix from Dirty, Clean, and Hydropower:

Percent of Maryland Tier I Renewable Energy from Dirty, Clean and Hydro

Incineration in any form is not clean, green or renewable. Maryland communities should not have to fear increased asthma and cancer, or deeper hits to their pocketbooks from these expensive and polluting "renewable" energy sources.

In 2011, pro-incinerator legislators passed SB 690, which made Maryland the first and only state to elevate trash incineration to "Tier I" – equivalent to wind power – allowing it to grow and earn more valuable renewable energy credits, rather than be phased out as a "Tier II" technology.

Shockingly, this "renewable" energy mix in Maryland is worse for the climate than the dirty energy mix it's replacing, and these combustion sources are as bad as (or worse than) coal by many measures.

Chesapeake Climate Action Network and others in the Maryland Climate Coalition have been pushing bills to double the RPS without cleaning it up first. They lobbied to increase it from 20% to 40%, won an increase to a 25% goal in 2017, and in 2018 are pushing to double it to 50%. They've been claiming for years that the increase will only come from wind and solar, even though the chart above shows that dirty energy sources, even without the expanded goal, still predominate and can expand. In the course of their campaigning, wind power use fell dramatically two years in a row before bouncing back, while dirty energy use keeps climbing.

We believe that the definitions ought to be cleaned up, by removing combustion technologies, before expanding the targets. Simply cleaning it up would massively expand wind and solar as they fill the gap.

* Note that the RPS has pointlessly thrown over $84 million at subsidizing decades-old hydroelectric dams that are not new or expanding, and are not at risk of closure. If hydro weren’t flooding the RPS with cheap and pointless credits, and dirty energy were removed, wind and solar (currently at 36% of the RPS pie) could nearly triple without even increasing the RPS target percentage.

A better way to grow wind & solar…

Since dirty energy is nearly half of the mandated renewable energy mix in recent years, removing these sources doubles the space for wind, solar and hydro.*

The Energy Justice approach, which cuts out 97% of the combustion sources from the RPS:

  1. Immediately limit eligibility of combustion sources to those facilities currently in the RPS.
  2. Make trash incineration and refuse-derived fuel credits ineligible by 2019.
  3. Make out-of-state combustion sources ineligible by 2020.

Those who propose doubling the RPS goal risk a continued growth of subsidies to dirty energy sources. Maintaining annual dirty energy subsidies helps keep these facilities open, such as Maryland's remaining trash incinerators that we're organizing to close.

How is this helping Maryland??

  • 59% of the "Tier I" renewable energy serving Maryland that is actually produced IN the state of Maryland comes from the state’s two trash incinerators – sources dirtier than coal burning.
  • 77% of the "Tier I" dirty energy has been coming from out of state, from as far as Wisconsin, Illinois and Tennessee.

Where Maryland’s renewable energy mix came from in 2016:

Source In-State Out-of-State
Wind: 1%     99%     
Solar: 100%   0%  
Geothermal: 100%   0%  
Hydroelectric dams: 2%   98%  
Biomass incineration (tree burning): 0%   100%  
Biomass incineration (crop burning): 0%   100%  
Black Liquor burning (paper mills): 4%   96%  
Landfill Gas Burning: 34%   66%  
Trash incineration: 73%   27%  
Anaerobic digester gas: 0%   100%  
TOTAL: 18%   82%  

Can dirty energy keep growing?

While some environmental groups kept pushing to expand the RPS in recent years, insisting that only wind and solar will grow, wind power's share dropped 24% between 2013 and 2015. While solar more than doubled in that time, overall clean energy still fell 14%. Meanwhile, smokestack sources kept taking in more and more money from Maryland ratepayers each year since 2010, most of it going out of state.

Black liquor (burning toxic paper mills wastes for power at the mill; a practice done for decades prior to the RPS) has been the largest source of Tier I RPS credits in 10 of the 13 years of the program (through 2016). The legislature's unwillingness to disqualify black liquor is in response to passionate lobbying by workers and bosses at the Luke Mill in Western Maryland, the state's only paper mill burning black liquor. However, credits going to the mill have dropped by more than 2/3rds since 2011. 96% of the black liquor credits Maryland ratepayers are subsidizing are now for paper mills in four other states. Over $25 million in 2015 went to support burning paper mill waste at mills in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio. This is an expensive, wasteful way to pretend to be preserving Luke Mill workers' jobs.

This isn't the only dirty energy source to mainly come from out-of-state. 100% of the "biomass" credits have gone to support burning trees in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Two-thirds of the ratepayer subsidies for landfill gas burning goes to support landfills in ten other states. The extremely polluting trash incinerator in Lorton, Virginia started selling credits into Maryland in 2015, and a smaller trash incinerator in Alexandria could also cash in on these credits, even though the law is intended only to subsidize trash incinerators within the state.

There is also much room for dirty energy to expand. Trash pellets from any state can be imported to be burned in Maryland's coal power plants, and qualify as Tier 1 credits, worth more than in any other state. Trash pelletization plants are cropping up not far from Maryland and are seeking a home for their pellets. It's just a matter of time before more dirty energy fills the gap unless we stop letting it be called "renewable."

Renewable Energy Credits from Dirty Energy Sources Used to Comply with Maryland RPS

   Renewable Energy Credits from Dirty Energy Sources Used to Comply with Maryland RPS


Renewable Energy Credits from Clean Energy Sources & Hydropower Used to Comply with Maryland RPS:

Renewable Energy Credits from Clean Energy Sources and Hydro Used to Comply with Maryland RPS

[All MD RPS data in these charts and narrative above obtained from PJM Generation Attribute Tracking System (GATS).]

Updates from the 2016 legislative session:

The bill we drafted (SB 867 / HB 1287) to clean up Maryland's RPS was introduced with strong support from the Maryland Chapter of Sierra Club, and many of us testified at hearings on the bill, which was aggressively opposed by the incinerator and paper mill industries.

While our legislation was handily shot down, we did a lot to educate legislators and build momentum for 2017. As the RPS expansion bill passed, an amendment to strip trash incineration out of the law came within one vote of passing! This is a good sign for next year, especially as both major trash incinerator proposals in Maryland are now dead, and the smallest of three existing incinerators just closed for good in March.

Victory: Stopped a bad bill!

In related legislative efforts, the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority was the subject of a battle we won. The Authority has been the driver behind existing and proposed waste incinerators in Maryland. In 2015, we worked with Frederick, Maryland residents (who fought off the Authority's incinerator proposal in an 8-year battle) to pass a bill redefining the Authority's mission to be about zero waste. The Authority objected and we came within one vote of passing the bill. In 2016's legislative session (that ends in early April each year), the Authority pushed a bill to expand their powers, pretending they were about "resource recovery parks," but seeking to be able to bond a wide range of waste and energy facilities, including many dirty technologies, while bypassing state utility approval processes.

Energy Justice staff, Dante Swinton and Mike Ewall, were the only ones to testify at the hearing before the Maryland Senate Environmental Committee. The Authority testified that "waste-to-energy" (incineration) is not politically or economically viable in Maryland, and insisted that they're a service organization to their member counties and that they'd follow the lead of the legislature if they prescribe a zero waste hierarchy.

The Senate committee then took the zero waste hierarchy straight from our testimony and amended that language into the Authority's bill. Within a day, the Authority interfered and replaced our zero waste hierarchy with EPA's waste hierarchy that includes incineration and puts it above landfilling, yet still branded it a "zero" waste hierarchy. This dreadful bill passed the Senate unanimously.

With help from Sierra Club and other allies, we beat back the bill in the House, with spectacular skepticism expressed by Maryland Delegates at the hearing where we all denounced the bill. In the course of all of this, we developed some good momentum to beat back incineration and push for true zero waste in the 2017 session.

Updates from the 2015 legislative session:

In 2015, there were a few bills we focused on:

Maryland Clean Energy Advancement Act (HB 377 / SB 373): These bills would double the RPS without cleaning it up at all. We urged legislators to oppose this bill unless it's amended to cap the use of smokestack technologies at 2013 levels, with the language from the bill we wrote: SB 760. See our testimony on the house bill.

"Thermal Energy" bills (HB 636 / SB 154): These bills would have added a new "thermal energy" requirement to the renewable energy mandate, prioritizing the burning of poultry waste and other "biomass" for heating purposes. We testified opposed to both of these bills, and drafted an amendment to ensure that any mandate for renewable heating includes solar technologies. See our testimony on the house and senate bills.

Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority mission change bill (SB 509): We also worked to pass a bill that would change the mission of this pro-incinerator agency to one that would support zero waste, and the creation of resource recovery parks to develop reuse, recycling and composting industries in the state.

Updates from the 2014 legislative session:

In 2014, we worked with allied groups and put out the following statement, and testimonies below, regarding waste and energy bills in the state...

Environmental Community Statement on Maryland's "Renewable Energy" Bills

Out of our unifying concern for public health, social justice and environmental integrity, we urge the Maryland legislature to reconsider aspects of several energy and waste bills that would continue to move our state toward increased use of biomass and waste incineration (so-called "waste-to-energy").

Public opinion strongly supports wind and solar power, but is strongly against biomass and waste incineration. A 2012 survey of over 1,000 adults found that more than 81% of Americans across the political spectrum believe that biomass energy should be used only after less polluting and water-intensive options are explored."

However, in 2012, 56.5% of Tier I in Maryland's renewable energy mandate was filled with smokestacked combustion technologies (burning of trash, biomass, black liquor, blast furnace gas and toxic landfill gases). Only 30% was met using wind and solar.

Part of this problem originated with SB 690 of 2011, which turned Maryland into the only state to put trash incineration in competition with wind power within its renewable energy mandate, moving it from Tier II (which is phased out by 2018) to Tier I, where the credits are worth more and the mandate grows over time. By contrast, New York State has rejected three attempts by Covanta to include trash incineration in its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law at all. Their state environmental agency has justified excluding trash incineration on the basis that they are far more polluting than coal power plants, releasing 14 times more mercury per unit of energy than coal power plants in New York. What makes this more incredible is that New York has ten trash incinerators (second only to Florida) while Maryland has only three.

Trash incineration (including "refuse-derived fuel") is the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste or to make energy. It is the dirtiest of all technologies Maryland defines as "renewable" -- dirtier than coal by every measure. Compared to coal, to make the same amount of power, trash incineration releases 28 times as much dioxin, twice as much carbon monoxide, 3.2 times as much nitrogen oxides (NOx), 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 20% more sulfur dioxides. On global warming, it is 2.5 times as polluting as coal for carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. Landfill gas burning, when it comes to global warming pollution, is even worse than trash incineration as long as organic wastes continue to be dumped in landfills, and burning this toxic gas for energy makes the problem even worse.

Subsidizing landfills and incinerators in our energy policies -- and putting incinerators ahead of landfills in waste policies -- burns up a lot of money while harming recycling and composting.

Biomass incineration is always polluting, even if it's "clean" wood or poultry litter, and even if it's burned in an "efficient" type of burner. Biomass is 50% worse than coal for the climate, no matter what sort of burner is used, and is comparable to coal on several other pollutants.

We urge the legislature to ensure that our state's energy and waste policies follow the zero waste and clean energy hierarchies:


Research (what is left to try to get closer to zero waste)
Digest (residual wastes to avoid gassy, stinky landfills)
NO: incineration or "waste-to-energy"


Energy Storage
NO: combustion or nuclear

A 2012 University of Delaware study has shown that, by 2030, wind, solar and energy storage can meet all of the electricity needs of Maryland's grid with 99.9% reliability at costs comparable to what we pay today.

Considering the incredible potential for clean, green job creation with the alternatives higher on these hierarchies, we urge that subsidies and mandates be shifted away from incineration and landfills and onto the higher priority clean alternatives.

Amendments that would move us in a better direction:

See Energy Justice Testimony on this bill.

HB 747/SB 734 - Creates efficiency standards for some biomass incineration, phasing out black liquor and some wood burners
 -Apply the efficiency standard to waste incineration (poultry litter-to-energy, waste-to-energy and refuse-derived fuel).
 -Move trash incineration (waste-to-energy and refuse-derived fuel) back into Tier II.
 -Remove co-firing from the RPS, as HB 931/SB 530 does.
 -Make the language in HB 747/SB 734 as explicit in removing black liquor and construction/demolition wood waste as in HB 931/SB 530, to avoid loopholes.

See Energy Justice Comments on this bill.

HB 931/SB 530 - Creates new Tiers for Thermal Biomass; Bans Black Liquor, Construction/Demolition Wood Waste and Co-firing
 -The bans are good, but mandating more combustion-heavy tiers is unacceptable.

See Energy Justice Testimony on this bill.

HB 1149/SB 733 - Doubles Tier I of RPS from 20 to 40%
 -Remove all combustion technologies from eligibility, and doubling won't even be needed in order to more-than-double use of wind and solar. Cleaning up the renewable energy definition is more important than doubling the numbers. Cleaning it up without doubling to 40% will likely triple wind power, but doubling without cleaning up will create more of a demand for incinerators.

See Energy Justice Testimony on this bill.

HB 1192/SB 786 - Creates a Renewable Electricity Pilot Program that includes biomass and gasification (a type of incineration)
 -Remove all combustion technologies from eligibility.

HB 473/SB 787 - Creates Green Business Incentive Zones (ten 10-year zones to provide benefits to "renewable" energy and other companies)
 -Remove all combustion technologies from eligibility.

See Energy Justice Testimony on this bill.

HB 240/SB 56 - Paves the way for a "Municipal Waste Portfolio Standard" that would phase in the burning of 87.5% of Maryland's non-recycled trash
 -Use the zero waste hierarchy instead of one that puts burning above burying.
 -Change bill's objectives to diverting waste from landfills AND INCINERATORS.