Making Maryland green

Our view : Promoting alternative energies would benefit state, U.S.

November 02, 2008

Within sight of Interstate 70 in Frederick sits the largest solar manufacturing assembly plant in North America, a symbol of the potential of alternative energy to fuel economic growth in Maryland and across the United States. The plant owned by BP Solar provides hundreds of skilled jobs for workers, and development of alternative energy could provide millions more jobs while increasing America's energy independence.

Both presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, have pledged to pursue that goal if elected. But the global economic crisis is threatening to seriously undermine that pledge. A slumping economy has driven the costs of oil and natural gas lower and made many energy alternatives now under development economically uncompetitive. At the same time, the Bush administration's delay of legislation extending tax breaks and grants to alternative energy companies has forced the postponement or cancellation of many of these projects.

Aggressively promoting alternative energy should be a top priority in the coming year for three reasons. First, oil and other carbon fuels are feeding dangerous global warming that produces unstable weather, crop failures and rising sea levels and the resulting economic consequences. Second, the price of oil may be low now, but increasing oil scarcity will mean higher prices again and more of America's wealth headed overseas to meet the country's basic energy needs. Last, successful development of alternative energy technologies would give the nation's energy industries a powerful boost from new markets around the world, as other nations struggle to meet their energy needs.

Signs of the potential of alternative energy are visible across Maryland, from windmills lining Appalachian ridges in the west to promising research at the University of Maryland on enzymes that could turn Chesapeake coastal grasses into fuels. And in Montgomery County, the government has established new "green" building standards intended to significantly reduce energy use in homes.

Maryland has good reason to pursue energy alternatives. The state's consumption of energy is growing at 2.7 percent a year, one-fourth higher than the national average. At the same time, the population is growing at just a fraction above the national average, so per capita electricity use is increasing. Rebuilding Baltimore to make it more energy efficient could pay dividends in every direction - less money wasted on fuel and hundreds of new skilled jobs in construction and energy technology.

Congress needs to prime the alternative energy pump with billions more in grants and credits to help spur America's new green economy.

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