In 2004, Maryland became one of the first states in the country to create a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The RPS requires the state to set a goal and create a plan to get a percentage of our energy from renewable sources. Maryland's standard was doubled during the 2008 legislative session to ensure that at least 20% of our electricity supply comes from renewable sources by 2022.
However, while fellow Mid-Atlantic States like Delaware and New Jersey get over 70% of their renewable energy portfolios from the wind and sun, these resources make up only 15% of Maryland's portfolio. The primary reason is a flaw in the renewable energy law that supports out-of-state, high-emission black liquor and wood waste facilities that have been in operation for over 32 years on average. These old, polluting facilities are receiving more of our renewable energy dollars than true clean energy sources like wind and solar.
What is the Problem?
The intent of this law is to incentivize truly clean energy sources, like wind and solar, and build a clean energy economy in Maryland. Unfortunately, half of our RPS has incentivized energy that pollutes, like "black liquor" and wood waste from paper mills and old inefficient power plants.
This means that rather than encouraging new low-emission facilities, the ratepayer-funded renewable energy credits (RECs) from Maryland have largely flowed towards old sources of generation that have been operating for decades without ratepayer assistance.
Black liquor is an industrial by-product of the pulp and paper industry. Since the 1930s, paper mills have burned black liquor to supply electricity for milling purposes and sell excess electricity onto the grid.
Wood waste includes - but is not limited to - mill residues, brush, yard waste, pallets, and left overs from saw timber forestry.
Rip off for our climate: According to the EPA, black liquor and wood waste both release more carbon dioxide and other toxic air pollutants than the fossil fuels that they displace.
- Rip off for our air quality: The combustion of black liquor and wood waste also releases methane, nitrous oxides, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, arsenic, sulfur oxides, lead, and other hazardous air pollutants.
- Rip off for ratepayers: Maryland ratepayers’ dollars are subsidizing dirty, old, and out-of-state polluting energy. Out of the nine paper mills and wood waste facilities that are currently registered for our RPS, only one is located in Maryland.
For the last five years, 56 percent of Maryland’s renewable energy dollars have been spent subsidizing black liquor and wood waste facilities that have been in operation for over 32 years on average. Maryland is the only state within our regional grid that allows unrestricted access to renewable energy credits for all black liquor and wood waste.
The Maryland General Assembly should pass legislation to limit the eligibility “qualifying biomass” in the RPS.
The General Assembly should remove old and inefficient black liquor and wood waste facilities from Maryland's Tier-1 renewable energy standard. This will ensure that only new, high-efficiency renewable systems receive ratepayer-funded renewable energy dollars.
Currently, black liquor and wood waste plants are the only “qualifying biomass” facilities receiving Maryland RECs. Restricting “qualifying biomass” RECs will fix the RPS and thus solidify the General Assembly’s intent of promoting clean sources of renewable energy for the benefit of our health and economy.
Because the future price of RECs will be set by new wind power regardless of whether out-of-state black liquor and wood waste facilities qualify for the RPS, their restriction will have no future impact on Maryland ratepayers.
Limiting black liquor and wood waste will create more space in our RPS for new wind generation, which will create jobs and reduce global warming pollution. By restricting black liquor and wood waste, Maryland will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million metric tons, putting the RPS on track to reduce a total of 8.3 million metric tons of climate-warming pollution by 2020.
- Read the factsheet on 2014 General Assembly legislation to end the black liquor rip-off.
- Download and share a flyer about why we need to restrict black liquor and wood waste in Maryland's RPS.
- Read the Washington Post story: "Md., D.C. utilities pay paper mills burning ‘black liquor’ for alternative fuel credits"
- Learn how reducing carbon pollution In Maryland's clean energy standard will not impact ratepayers
- Learn why phasing black liquor out of Maryland's clean energy standard will be good for jobs
- Black liquor and wood waste frequently asked questions
- RPS reform presentation