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Maryland's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) Incentivizes Natural Gas and Subsidizes Out-of-State Electricity Producers


Maryland's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) Incentivizes Natural Gas and Subsidizes Out-of-State Electricity Producers

Hiruy Hadgu

Maryland's proposed Clean Energy Act (HB1158/SB0516) will increase carbon emissions and natural gas consumption, unless the Maryland State Assembly classifies nuclear power as Tier 1 renewable energy.

In 2017, nuclear power produced nearly 38% of Maryland's total electricity (Figure 1) and nearly 81% of its clean energy (Figure 2). According to NASA, nuclear power has prevented 1.8 million deaths worldwide between 1971 and 2009. It has prevented the emission of 64 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2-e) in the same time period. By 2050, it could prevent an additional 7 million deaths and up to 240 GtCO2-e [reference 1].

NASA estimates nuclear power has prevented 1.8 million deaths since 1971 and 7 million more by 2050.

The 2018 IPCC report states “Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050” [reference 10]. The Clean Energy Jobs Act amends Maryland's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require the increase of renewable energy production to 50% by 2030. While the bill is well-intentioned, it is based on unrealistic assumptions about renewable energy technology and would lead to a market distortion that will adversely impact nuclear power, thereby increasing carbon emissions.

Maryland is not meeting its RPS goals. In fact, the environmental group Food and Water Watch gave Maryland an F grade. While RPS called for 14% Tier 1 and 1.15% solar by 2017, only 4% was produced by Tier 1 and 0.78% by solar (Figures 3 and 4, respectively). Since 2006, Tier 1 and solar production have increased at a compounded annual average rate (CAGR) of 2% and 0.07%, respectively. In order to achieve the goal of 50% Tier 1 and 14.5% solar by 2030, the annual growth rate needs to be at 37% for Tier 1 and 10.2% for solar. This represents a 19- and 150-fold increase for Tier 1 and solar growth rates, respectively, in 12 years.

In 12 years, the growth rates need to increase 19-fold for Tier 1 and 150-fold for solar to meet 2030 goals.

So how have Maryland electricity producers complied with the RPS requirements? By purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) or energy subsidies, the proceeds of which are used by the Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Fund. The SEIF funds important programs such as the Small, Minority, and Women-Owned Business Account to “provide investment capital, including direct equity investments and loans…in the clean energy industry in the state” and the Clean Energy Workforce Account to “support a workforce development program that provides pre-apprenticeship jobs training…”

Unfortunately, there are two problems with this plan: first, the RECs serve as an alternative compliance payment, which do very little to disincentivize natural gas, because it is so cheap - this is a major market distortion. Second most of this alternative compliance payment has been paid to out-of-state producers. According to a 2017 report by the Maryland Public Service Commission, 75% of the RECs were retired using sources from out-of-state producers [reference 10]. Over the life of the RPS, a minimum of $186 million has been paid to out-of-state producers [reference 8]. So not only has the RPS done very little to increase renewables, it has done more to subsidize the renewable energy of other States than Maryland’s. Going forward, only 25% of the intended funds will be deposited to the SEIF.

Over the years, Maryland ratepayers have subsidized out-of-state producers to the tune of $186 million, which accounts for 75% of the RECs paid.

Let’s turn to the definition of "renewables". It is true, solar panels and wind turbines use renewable energy, but they are made of natural resources extracted from the earth, which are not renewable. They are also carbon intensive to fabricate. In fact, the life-cycle emission of nuclear power is less than solar and only comparable to wind (Figure 5).

Nuclear also requires less land than other renewable sources. In Maryland, wind needs 60 acres per MW, while solar needs a minimum of 5 acres per MW [reference 9]. The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant sited on 23.5 acres of land needs 0.01 acres per MW (Figure 6).

In Maryland, wind and solar need 6000 and 500 times more land than nuclear, respectively.

What about waste? What is statutorily categorized as nuclear waste in the U.S. is actually 95% unused. The actual waste is a significantly smaller fraction of the fuel. The actual annual waste for a 1000 MWe reactor is 750 kg. For reference, 27,000 kg of nuclear fuel is needed for 1000 MWe of electricity each year [reference 14]. The total amount of nuclear waste to date amounts to about 22,000 metric tonnes, equivalent to a 10-foot tall building located on a football field [reference 11]. By comparison, “the International Renewable Energy Agency estimated there was about 250,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste worldwide at the end of 2016…Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel” [reference 12].

Nuclear waste amounts to 22,000 metric tonnes, while solar panel waste as of 2016 amounted to 250,000 metric tonnes.

So what happens to the solar PV waste? EPRI has determined that they are not suitable for landfills and States like California are researching new ways to divert solar panel waste from landfills to prevent toxic materials from leaching into the soil [reference 12]. A significant amount of used solar panels are sold to third world countries as “second-hand”, where very little public health standards exist let alone solar panel waste management. Black and brown people world-wide continue to suffer from even the well-intentioned acts of the West.

Because solar PV contains lead, cadmium, and other toxic waste, they are not suitable for landfills.

The superiority of nuclear power to other sources of energy is not limited to its waste. When we look at other safety metrics such as Deathprint – the mortality rate worldwide due to each energy resource per trillion kilowatt of electricity over the past 40 years, nuclear power has the lowest compared to solar and wind (Figure 7). This includes the deadliest nuclear accident – Chernobyl where 58 people died according to the study conducted by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) [reference 1, 5].

One of the biggest challenges in our society is the tendency to stick to our deeply held biases and long-held dogma despite the data. One political party claims existence of rampant voter fraud or that climate change doesn’t exist despite the data, which categorically refute those claims. Another political party continues to herald solar and wind as the panacea to the world’s climate change problems despite data, which categorically challenges it. It is not enough to accept the data behind climate science, if the solutions to fix it are not realistic.

It is not enough to accept the data behind climate science, if the solutions to fix it are not realistic.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects electric cars will reach 125 million worldwide by 2030 [reference 3]. While nuclear power operates continuously at all hours of the day, renewable energy sources do not. A measure of this reliability is called "capacity factor". It is the ratio of the actual energy output versus the maximum possible. In 2017, nuclear power plants had a capacity factor of 92.2%, while solar had 23.8% (Figure 8). Is the plan to rely on intermittent and low-capacity sources of energy for such power intensive needs as electric cars?

Organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggest we can meet such aggressive targets by reducing our energy demand by 40% [reference 4]. In reality this is nearly impossible. For example, California’s building energy codes has fallen woefully short in reducing new building energy consumption by 80% (only 15% to 25% since 1978) [reference 7]. Furthermore, energy efficiency merely paves way for more energy consumption at cheaper prices as we find more uses for the electricity [reference 15].

This discussion is not intended to claim nuclear is far superior to solar and wind. Instead, it presents hard data to question Maryland's RPS policy position that solar and wind are far superior to nuclear. They are not.


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