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Environmental, social, and governance risks and opportunities

Maryland’s Energy Crisis: The Critical Need to Boost In State Electricity Generation

Breaking the Dependence on Imported Electricity
Electricity

Maryland consumes about 40% more electricity than it generates.

The extra supply of more than 200 Trillion Btu of electricity, annually, is delivered to the state over the PJM regional grid. And the amount imported is growing dramatically. 

While the percentage of imported electricity varies from day to day (depending upon weather conditions, costs of fuel sources, energy public policy, etc.), this is not a new situation, dating back approximately 40 years, and will increase in coming years.

That in 2022 the two reactor 1970s era Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant located on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay accounted for about 39% of the state’s total in state electricity generation, is what saves the State’s broken publicly mandated utility system. Natural gas generation (.. which has more than tripled since 2015, as nearly 2,600 megawatts of new natural gas generating capacity came online) accounted for about 36% of in state electricity generation.

Coal fired generating plants had historically supplied more than half the state’s generation, but coal’s share has been below 50% since 2012 and was at about 12% in 2022.

However, of the 40% of electricity imported into Maryland for use in the state, in 2022 more than 22% was coal generated (which is a generic U.S. Energy Information Administration statistic, but PJM actual operational data shows that in that year more than 36% was coal generated). Also significant, PJM’s real time market (of locational marginal prices calculated on 5 minute intervals based on actual grip operations) shows that at its peak Maryland’s imported electricity is more than 70% coal generated.

Not surprisingly, the use of electricity is not static.

But neither is in state generation, including Maryland’s three remaining coal power plants (with a combined generating capacity of nearly 1,800 megawatts), the two largest power plants intend to shut down by 2025 and the smallest plant has given notice it will shut down later this year. Solar energy, wind, and biomass are increasing but will not at any reasonable time replace that capacity or energy density; so, the state will import more electricity. The largest renewable electricity source available on the grid (.. not including hydroelectric dams) is landfill gas, which is an inelastic supply. Since 2022 there is arguably more solar power generated, but nearly two thirds of Maryland’s solar generation came from small scale, customer sited solar, such as residential rooftop solar panels (.. and not contributing in any meaningful way to the grid).

While it is popular to talk about the fact that Maryland had about 102,530 registered electric vehicles and about 1,667 electric charging stations, with both of those numbers increasing the amount of electricity used (i.e., replacing petroleum), such only exacerbates the already existing total energy imbalance.

That is Maryland consumes about five times more energy than it produces (.. including but not limited to electricity). Around 90% of Maryland’s petroleum is consumed by the transportation sector, which accounts for 33% of the state’s total energy consumption, followed closely by the residential sector at 31% and the commercial sector at 29%. But the state public policy to increase electric vehicle use and electrify buildings (that are today using natural gas) will of course increase electricity use and that electricity will be imported with a significant portion of it generated from coal.   

However, the real and dramatic increase in electricity use is elsewhere. Where businesses had in the recent past used electricity principally for lighting, heating and cooling, hot water, and office equipment including computers, ignoring for this discussion the power needs of data centers, many businesses will be utilizing computers with larger chip sets increasing electricity needs (.. think AI).

In the politicization of a consultant study commissioned by the State government to justify the implementation of the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022, which by its own admission only considers a subset of energy use that might be subject to that single state law, the spurious projection is that Maryland electric systems would see load growth rates in the range of 0.6 – 2.1% per year through 2031. The projection ignores the historical reality that Maryland’s total electricity load growth has been in excess of 4.9% per year. School buildings have been among the largest constants in increasing electricity use and are excluded from that law and State government spin. The study further underestimated growth by not including any of the public or private cogeneration plants in the plants which are growing all but exponentially in response to concerns about the future unreliability of Maryland’s electric grid.

The political spin around Maryland’s future electric load growth is silent on the gerrymandered parameters discussed by the Maryland Department of the Environment when it by design excludes the largest private sector electricity customer in the state, Johns Hopkins (which has and is constructing large cogeneration plants) and the largest public sector electric user in the state, Fort Meade (which having maxed out electricity capacity of the grid as BGE’s largest customer, now not only has its own fossil fuel generation on base but also has deployed a series of 1.6 megawatt of solid oxide fuel cells, apparently to reliably power NSA facilities, eliminating the need for electrical transmission from the grid and costly backup infrastructure). Despite those efforts, in response to future needs for increasing amounts of electricity, the U.S. Department of Defense has publicly discussed relocating equipment from the Maryland base to states with better electricity capacity.

From a conservation perspective, none of this makes much sense when Maryland ranks among the 10 states with both the lowest total per capita energy consumption and the lowest energy use to produce one dollar of GDP. MDE should take a win.

An interesting factoid, the Port of Baltimore is the second largest coal exporting port in the country, so the State’s economy benefits hugely from shipping the fossil fuel to India for electricity generation although exports were temporarily halted on March 26 with the main channel blocked by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

But MDE’s apocalyptic environmentalism, attempting to implement policies founded in the idea that unless humankind drastically reduces consumption the state’s population and appetite will overwhelm the ecosystems, were checked by the legislature this year when the Department’s plan to ration electricity (i.e., its proposed regulation of Energy Use Intensity in buildings) when the legislature cut off funding to implement EUI regulation.

The Maryland economy does not produce much of anything but rather relies heavily on government services and pendant professional services, those that support government and will be big users of energy demanding AI computing. Out of concern about the grid becoming less reliable, including the state government’s aim to ration electricity, the top question by many prospective commercial tenants in Maryland has become backup electricity sources.

Maryland, like many other similarly situated states, cannot import its way out of this predicament with ever increasing electricity demand, produced from coal or not. The State’s 20th century heavily government controlled utility model doesn’t encourage innovation, but the state needs to innovate in matters of energy. Maryland requires a techno optimism application of science and technology to resolve this dilemma of producing more electricity.

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