solar panels maryland

The Politics of Solar Panels: Maryland's Struggle to Push Through Renewable Energy Legislature

Maryland homeowners are eager to install solar panels on their roof tops. Maryland government officials, however, are having a hard time generating money for subsidies to help them.

Although the use of solar energy dates back to when the Romans used glass windows to harness the heat of the sun, people in the United States didn’t get serious about using solar power until the energy crisis of the 1970s. It was then that government first provided tax incentives to people who wanted to install solar panels and solar water heater systems in their homes. Unfortunately, falling oil prices caused public interest in exploiting the renewable energy source to wane.

Almost forty years later, though, rising energy prices and fears over global warming has many Maryland homeowners eager to install solar panels on their homes so they can take advantage of sun’s free energy. Who can blame them? 20 solar panels have the capacity to produce 3.2 kilowatts of electricity; enough to provide about 30% of a home’s annual needs.

In addition to saving homeowners money on their energy bills, there are many community benefits to having homes outfitted with solar panels. Homes with solar panels installed frees up electricity for other uses during peak hours when the grid is strained from high demand. More homes with solar panels installed means less electricity is needed which in turn reduces the cost of energy for everyone.

And let’s not forget about the reduction of air pollution in Maryland. Installing a 20 panel system has the same effect as planting one acre of trees by eliminating approximately three and a half tons of carbon dioxide, 41 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 17 pounds of nitrogen oxide – the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

However, installing solar panels is not cheap. Solar panel systems can cost anywhere from $5,000-50,000 depending on whether you only have solar water heaters installed or want your whole house running on solar energy. Because of the expense, many homeowners are turning to the Maryland state government for assistance. Unfortunately, coal and oil special interest groups have made subsidizing residential installations of solar panels difficult.

For example, homes with solar panels installed receive a credit from the power company anytime their system contributes electricity to grid. But due to a law on the books, this credit cannot be carried into other months meaning if a homeowner’s electric bill is $50 and they contribute $65 worth of energy to the grid, only $50 in credit would be applied to their bill. The electric company would get the other $15 for free. A legislative attempt to reverse this failed in 2005, partly due to the efforts of lobbyists.

Another example is a bill proposed by Robert Garagiola (D-Montgomery County) that would have eliminated the coal subsidy by 2008 and captured $1 million for the funding of solar panels never saw the light of day outside of the legislative committee because of the state’s commitment to coal.

The only way things are going to change is if Maryland residents fight for it. Contact your Maryland government officials and demand they show their commitment to finding renewable energy resources by subsidizing installation of solar panels on Maryland residential homes.

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