The Sierra Club And General Assembly Could Leave Millions Powerless In The Dark


If we went net-zero, carbon-neutral today, how much should I expect the average temperature to increase or decrease? Furthermore, with that increase or decrease, what should I expect in the way of weather, storms, snow, sun, and life itself? After all, if Earth’s atmosphere consists of only 0.04% carbon dioxide and all plant life dies at 0.02% than what is our goal?

I have introduced House Bill 1315 Public Service Commission - Electricity Generation Facilities - Premature Retirement (Keep the Lights On Act), aimed at delaying premature closure of the Brandon Shores Power Plant in Curtis Bay unless specific conditions are met. These conditions include ensuring cost savings for customers, maintaining a sufficient and reliable energy supply, and ensuring that any proposed replacement generation facility will not be more environmentally detrimental than the existing one. This bill is scheduled to be heard on March 7 at 1:00pm.

For background, consider the events of the past few years:

  • 2020: Talen Energy embraces eco-friendly practices, abandoning coal like an outdated trend. The company pledges to shut down plants, including the Brandon Shores Power Plant, renowned for its high-energy output, by 2025, promoting sustainability over convenience. Farewell, reliable energy; welcome … looming power shortages?

  • 2022: The Maryland General Assembly passes the Climate Solutions Act. The new mantra is achieving net-zero emissions by 2045. So, as we usher in the era of modern, sustainable energy, let’s not forget one important ingredient: a plan that ensures the lights stay on.

  • 2023: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Mark Christie issues a warning of potential and voltage collapse. Prepare for possible energy shortages, Maryland, as challenges arise. Will essential services be affected?

  • 2025: The proposal (drum roll, please): Sourcing power from Pennsylvania, at a cost of $800 million for the needed infrastructure and an anticipated completion date of 2028. Best case scenario is we only have unreliable energy for three years?

  • 2026 and Beyond: Maryland contemplates its energy policies, reflecting on past decisions and future implications. Prepare for a potentially challenging journey ahead for power reliability.

Talen Energy operates the Brandon Shores Power Plant, a significant coal-fired power plant located just outside Baltimore City, in Anne Arundel County. In 2020, the company announced its agreement with the Sierra Club to close Brandon Shores along with two other major coal power plants in the region by June 2025. Initially, there were plans to transition Brandon Shores to use a less emitting fuel source, but this was later abandoned in favor of a complete closure, potentially raising concerns about future reliability.

Ralph Alexander, the then-CEO of Talen Energy, emphasized that the closure was part of the company's shift toward green energy and its broader focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments. Talen Energy has committed to entirely eliminating the use of coal in its wholly-owned generation facilities, including Brandon Shores, which collectively generate over 1,370 megawatts of power. FERC Commissioner Mark Christie expressed concerns in November 2023, stating that without proper upgrades, the shutdown could lead to "severe voltage collapse in Baltimore and the surrounding zones," adding that such a scenario would be "potentially catastrophic."

The Climate Solutions Now Act Maryland, passed by the Maryland General Assembly, sets ambitious clean energy goals. The law requires Maryland to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and 100% clean energy by 2035. However, with 87% of energy coming from non-renewables like natural gas and coal, Maryland faces challenges. Renewables contribute only 13% to these goals. The state risks repeating the energy crisis of 2000-2001, similar to California's issues with Enron.

Experts in the field of utilities, who are well-acquainted with the Brandon Shores closure, are issuing warnings about potential transmission and distribution outages that could lead to extensive power failures and rolling brownouts. This poses a significant risk, particularly for hospitals, which rely on continuous power to support critical functions such as surgeries and the operation of essential medical equipment including ventilators, monitors, lights, and life support systems. Additionally, citizens, nursing homes, and other medical facilities rely on uninterrupted power to maintain refrigeration for medications. High security establishments equipped with advanced television monitoring and security systems, such as financial institutions, as well as highly sensitive institutions like Fort Meade, National Securiry Agency (NSA) and the Naval Academy could also be affected.

The absence of power poses a threat to our food supply, telecommunications infrastructure, and personal safety, emphasizing the critical need for reliable power sources. Furthermore, any restriction in the supply of electricity without immediate alternatives is likely to result in higher costs for consumers and businesses, significantly impacting the most vulnerable members of our society.

PJM Interconnection plays a crucial role as the independent system operator overseeing the distribution of wholesale electricity across 13 states, encompassing Maryland and the District of Columbia. Regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), PJM is responsible for managing the flow of power to ensure the region's grid reliability. As the FERC-approved and regulated independent operator of the grid serving 65 million consumers, PJM has emphasized the potential repercussions of the Brandon Shores shutdown, warning of its adverse impact on grid stability and the broader region. Consequently, PJM's analytical insights underscore the risks associated with voltage drop and thermal violations, stressing the importance of preventing widespread reliability risks in Baltimore and its adjacent areas.

PJM's proposal to address the energy reliability and loss at Brandon Shores involves the installation of new substations and transmission lines, connecting to other plants such as the Peach Bottom Nuclear Generating Plant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This initiative will be executed through BGE, estimated to incur costs of $800 million and scheduled for completion by 2028. The three-year transitional phase raises significant concerns due to potential vulnerabilities for all Maryland residents, while also imposing substantial financial implications amidst already soaring utility expenses.

In December 2023, Talen Energy pledged to work with PJM to tackle BGE zone reliability issues using an interim generation solution while long-term transmission fixes are put in place. They stressed the importance of cooperation from various parties, including PJM, Talen, Sierra Club, state of Maryland, and the Independent Market Monitor (IMM). Talen Energy opposed the Reliability Must Run (RMR) setup, stating it should be a last resort. They insisted they can operate Brandon Shores until power grid upgrades are done in 2028, seeking relief from their Sierra Club agreement.

I take my job as a state legislator very seriously and my core drive is anchored in the belief that my prime responsibility is to inform, educate and protect those who I represent. With that in mind, I ponder the question: How have the fates of millions of Maryland residents fallen into the hands of the Sierra Club, and an energy company from Texas that recently went bankrupt?

Despite their claims of adhering to ESG policies, there was allegedly no upfront disclosure of their plans to shut down Brandon Shores or their partnership with the Sierra Club to either the PSC or PJM. The Public Service Commission now admits to lacking authority in this matter, while the 13-state grid operator may or may not have properly anticipated this disaster barreling down the track?

To sum it up, are we trading stable, reliable energy for the unreliable, “purer” kind? Is going green equivalent to going dark? I do not have all the answers, but I do understand that dependable electricity is vital for today’s society to thrive and survive. Sharp increases in rates are guaranteed soon regardless of where this settles and that is deeply unfortunate in Maryland, which continues to see citizens fleeing the state.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here