Challenges to Building Consensus in Maryland Energy Policy

Energy policy is a blood sport in Maryland.  To pick a recent story:

The governor tried to wrest concessions from Constellation as the company seeks state regulatory approval of a $4.5 billion deal to sell half its nuclear power business to French utility Electricite de France. Constellation offered to give customers a break by delaying requests for rate increases, but O’Malley said that didn’t go far enough. He sought immediate electricity price reductions and other commitments.

Entertainment value aside, there are real-world factors that make achieving consensus difficult.  Here are four:

1. Energy Transit: Marylanders often get the feeling that they’re in somebody’s way.  An LNG terminal is needed that will ship gas to a neighboring state.  A high-voltage transmission line is needed to ship one neighbor state’s generation surplus to another neighbor state’s power market.  Tons of coal rumble through the state to world markets.  The East Coast’s petroleum jugular runs right across Maryland.

2. Down-wind and down-stream: Maryland sees the results of pollution-causing activities in neighboring states and watches the Chesapeake Bay, its crown jewel, wasting away.

3. Fractured Media: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have a growing share of voters but Washington-area media provide meager coverage of Annapolis and Baltimore.  Rural areas feel ignored by the Baltimore and Washington media.  Though the state is small, its residents not only have diverse values but also don’t share a common information base for dialogue and discussion.

4. Federal elephant: Marylanders are grateful for the good jobs and other opportunities provided by the large number of federal facilities in and around our state.  However, when the elephant rolls over, it can easily upset local plans (as with BRAC).  Stakeholders may be tempted to play the federal game and ignore the state (see #1).  One more reason for citizens to scratch their heads — if they aren’t already shaking them!

Factors like these are accidents of geography — no one is to blame.  And they won’t change or go away.

Maryland could benefit from something like Envision Utah, a decade-long effort to engage that state in a dialogue over growth policy.  But any state-wide dialogue aiming to build trust and consensus over energy policy must take account of the state’s unique circumstances.

Absent stronger consensus, Marylanders will continue to feel frustrated about protecting their future, especially in regional and federal arenas.

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