A healthier, more affordable clean energy future for Maryland

Maryland utility regulators are considering opening up a proceeding to plan for the future of gas, which can help Maryland residents access lower energy bills, cleaner air, and more comfortable homes.

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Activists and advocates supporting clean, efficienct electric home heating and appliances.

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Imagine a future where our children grow up in homes filled with clean, healthy air, and can play outside without the threat of smog impacting their growing lungs. Imagine a future where each home is equipped with the latest, most efficient appliances and heating and cooling equipment to keep us safe and comfortable and our energy bills low even when summer temperatures soar past 90 degrees. 

Smart planning is the key to unlocking energy savings and cleaner air

Maryland’s Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 directs the state to reduce global-warming emissions 60% by 2031, and sets a goal of carbon-neutrality by 2045. The new law can help us achieve this future by requiring our state leaders to make smart investments today for a cleaner, more resilient tomorrow. 

Yet, Maryland gas utilities are charging Maryland residents billions of dollars each year in high monthly energy bills for gas pipelines and equipment that will soon become obsolete. State regulators have struggled to rein in this spending due in part to outdated policies that are out of touch with our climate goals. 

As Maryland’s utility regulators, the Public Service Commission (PSC) can slow this unnecessary spending and unlock billions of dollars to help customers upgrade to healthier, more efficient electric equipment such as heat pumps that can provide both heating and cooling.

As a result, Maryland residents can access lower energy bills, cleaner air, and better comfort – all while reducing emissions from our buildings.

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Maryland’s outdated obligation to spend billions on fossil fuels is driving up energy bills

Upgrading homes with efficient, electric equipment is an increasingly viable option for Maryland families. With a generous basket of incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act and new state incentives from the EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act, many households can soon upgrade their homes with better insulation, electrical wiring, and electric equipment such as heat pumps and induction stoves. Increasingly popular because of improvements in function and efficiency, heat pump sales in the U.S. already outpace sales for gas furnaces.

We can’t, however, build this healthier, more affordable future home by home. We need leadership from our utility regulators and policymakers to jumpstart a managed, phased transition toward clean heat. 

Gas customers in Maryland are already seeing their bills rise as maintenance of our aging gas infrastructure escalates. According to a recent analysis from the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel (OPC), gas delivery rates in Maryland have skyrocketed in the last decade, some at three times the rate of inflation. Monthly charges have risen dramatically due in large part to utilities prioritizing costly pipeline replacement that deliver a higher rate of return to their shareholders over cost-effective pipeline repairs. Gas utilities pass on the cost of this spending to their customers in the form of higher monthly bills and high interest loans. By 2035, the typical BGE customer could see their monthly bill double to reach $450. As more Marylanders upgrade to healthier, more efficient electric alternatives, Maryland’s most vulnerable residents could be left to cover the remaining costs of this spending, causing monthly energy bills to rise further.

The PSC and state policymakers can intervene today to protect consumers from these financial risks and strategically upgrade households with clean energy by launching a Future of Gas proceeding and enacting policies that addresses Maryland’s outdated policies that prioritize gas.

Now is the time to plan for Maryland’s clean energy Future.

The Maryland PSC is considering opening up a proceeding to plan for the future of gas. Future of Gas proceedings have been initiated in 12 states to explore policies and regulatory frameworks that balance the energy transition’s objectives: ensuring affordability, maintaining safety and reliability, preventing stranded costs, and achieving state climate targets.

While this transition won’t happen overnight, the state should be thoughtful about how to strategically manage the transition, looking at both urgent changes that need to be made to public policy and long term planning so we can protect consumers, health, and the planet.

The People’s Counsel, Maryland Energy Administration, environmentalists and consumer groups support the proceeding, and encourage the PSC to engage in multi stakeholder planning into the future of home heating and gas infrastructure maintenance. This planning could lead utilities to strengthen clean energy infrastructure and unlock billions in funding to help customers across the state upgrade their homes with better insulation and highly efficient, electric equipment like heat pumps. Doing so can bring cleaner air and better comfort to millions of residents, while lowering energy burdens across the state.

Maryland gas customers can’t afford to continue to prop up Maryland’s aging, sprawling gas pipeline network. By initiating a future of gas proceeding today, the PSC will bring tremendous benefit to Maryland families, reducing energy bills, cleaning up our air, and improving the quality of our lives.

Heat Pump Installation
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Better, more efficient technology is saving Marylanders money on their heating bills

More than 50% of Marylanders are on track to upgrade to highly efficient electric heat pumps for home heating and cooling by 2030. 

According to analysis from RMI, Marylanders can save an average of $740 a year on heating and cooling and $380 on water heating by upgrading to highly efficient heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. 

Heat pumps are suitable for all Maryland climates and provide both heating and cooling all in one efficient, electric HVAC system. Heat pumps use an average of 18% less electricity for cooling than central AC units in the Mid-Atlantic and are two to three times more efficient than gas furnaces even amid the depths of winter weather, saving precious dollars, and making homes more comfortable. 

kids playing in a park
Evgeniy Kalinovskiy | Shutterstock.com

Better, more efficient technology means cleaner air

A recent report from RMI, GHHI, CCAN and CASA, found that fossil fuel heating equipment in residential and commercial buildings in Maryland emits more than three times as much health-harming NOx as all the state’s power plants put together. This has serious implications for the health of our families and our climate. And while most of this equipment is vented outdoors, some appliances, like gas stoves may not be, increasing pollution inside the home.

Growing scientific evidence is documenting the respiratory harms of cooking with gas and using other gas equipment in our homes. Children living in homes where people cook meals with gas-powered appliances have a 42% greater chance of experiencing asthma symptoms. 

Resources

OPC Report: Maryland’s Utility Rates and Basics  (June 2024)
Gas and electric delivery rates for many of the state’s largest utilities have skyrocketed since 2010, with some rates increasing by multiples of two or three. This report provides explanation and data on utility bills, rates, and charges, and how—and why—they have changed over time.

OPC: Gas and Gas Spending
OPC has  released a series of reports on gas infrastrucutre spending and short and long term customer impacts.

Clean Energy Home Toolkit
Guides & resources for weatherizing your home, cutting energy bills, buying an electric car, and information on the rebates & incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Energy Efficiency: How to access your utility’s EmPOWER program
If you are interested in learning more about incentives and rebates under EmPOWER or getting an efficiency audit or checkup for your home, check out the EmPOWER progam website for your utility company.

Report: The Trouble with Stride
The 2013 STRIDE law, expedited utilities’ replacement of their gas pipes in the name of safety. Unfortunately, a decade after the STRIDE law was passed, it’s clear that instead of prioritizing fixing the riskiest pipes, the gas utilities are spending wastefully to boost profits.

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Authors

Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG Foundation

Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Recently, Emily helped win small donor public financing in Montgomery and Howard counties, and the Maryland Keep Antibiotics Effective Act to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms. Emily also serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition and the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working, and the Steering Committees for the Maryland Pesticide Action Network and Marylanders for Open Government. Emily lives in Baltimore with her husband and dog.