Solar bill benefits jobs, consumers and environment

Legislation backed by O’Malley needed to keep nascent industry growing

April 07, 2010|By Anthony E. Clifford

Two years ago, the Free State, like many states, was struggling over how to start generating electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal. Since then, the solar industry has come alive. Maryland companies are generating new jobs while helping homeowners and businesses control their energy costs by generating their own clean electricity that is improving our environment.

Today, Maryland is one of about 10 states with a burgeoning solar industry that is becoming a bona fide engine for economic growth. But that growth could stop, and the economic engine that solar is becoming will sputter, if the House of Delegates elects not to approve the O'Malley administration's solar legislation, which has already passed the state Senate. (The House vote could come as soon as Thursday.)

In tough economic and budget times such as these, it is incumbent on all Marylanders to reassess the programs we're putting in place. Any balanced, long-term assessment of the costs and benefits of the administration's solar legislation should lead Republicans and Democrats to conclude that solar is integral to 1) generating new jobs we need and thereby reducing unemployment; 2) helping all consumers control their energy costs; 3) cleaning up the air we breathe and the water we drink; 4) continuing to reduce our dependence on dirty or foreign fuels needed to make electricity.

Take the experience of our company, Standard Solar in Gaithersburg. Two years ago, we were a small residential installer with about a dozen employees. Since then, we have hired more than 60 employees to help create solar electric systems for businesses, government agencies and a variety of academic institutions. Similar gains in good-paying jobs for electricians, engineers, construction workers, permitting specialists, financial managers and customer care experts are happening in many parts of the state. Each of these jobs pays taxes to the state and local governments and lots of household bills.

The legislative analysis lawmakers are using has concluded the changes sought by this legislation (Senate Bill 277, House Bill 471) confirms they will have basically no impact on the price consumers pay for electricity. Technically, the analysis foresees a tiny .02 percent increase in a typical monthly bill. If utilities use their skills to comply prudently, the decline that is forecast in electricity prices over the next two years could yield even more savings as clean energy begins to influence the cost of generating electricity from dirty and dangerous sources of fuel such as coal.

With the economy struggling to pull out of the recession, we're foolish if we don't recognize the huge upside potential of more solar power in Maryland. Solar developers and installers in Maryland are responding to the growing demand and poised to scale up their businesses if, and only if, the state's lawmakers see the light about solar.

Anthony E. Clifford is president of the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association and chief executive officer of Standard Solar Inc. in Gaithersburg. His e-mail is tony.clifford@standardsolar.com.

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