2021 | Government

Officials begin work on community choice energy, a piece of Climate Action Plan

County now allowed to form program to buy renewable energy for residents

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As Montgomery County works on a Climate Action Plan, state legislation passed this year has already started the process for one component: community choice energy.

Community choice energy is a program that will allow counties to combine the “electric loads” of residents and small businesses, to help negotiate for better rates when buying power from renewable sources, like solar or wind.

The process of giving the county this authority will come through a local work group and other partners proposing a model, but the state law prevents a final program from happening until at least 2024. 

Adriana Hochberg, the climate change officer in County Executive Marc Elrich’s office, told reporters Wednesday that efforts are underway on that program. It’s an important piece if the county is to meet its goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions countywide by 2035, she said. 

That goal in the county’s Climate Action Plan is 10 years sooner than Maryland’s goal, Hochberg added.

The state’s Public Service Commission — which regulates utilities across Maryland — will help county officials, energy suppliers and other parties create the model for community choice energy, she said.

A county could purchase solar, offshore wind and other clean sources outside county limits, Hochberg said. 

According to the state law, the work group that will help form the model for Montgomery County will include one representative apiece from:

  • county government
  • the Office of People’s Counsel, which represents Marylanders in energy utility cases in front of the Public Service Commission
  •  “each investor-owned electric company whose service territory includes all or part of a county that participates in the pilot program”
  • a “competitive electricity supplier”
  • residential and small commercial electric customers
  • low-income communities
  • minority residential communities
  • someone with expertise in implementing community choice programs

Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Takoma Park) was one of the leaders in Annapolis who helped pass the state legislation.

Charkoudian said in an interview Thursday that community choice energy is an important piece of the county’s overall efforts to combat climate change. Even if the county and its residents completely electrify their buildings and vehicles, it doesn’t have a complete impact if the energy grid is still pulling from sources that pollute the environment, she said.

Residents and businesses can opt out of the program once it is finalized, at no cost, Charkoudian said. But because the county will serve large swaths of people, it will lead to residents and businesses getting competitive and even cheaper rates for renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, she said. 

She believes that many county residents want to switch to clean forms of energy, but don’t have the time to research or review the lengthy contracts that can come from those energy suppliers.

“Most folks, if you talk to them, they would prefer to have clean energy rather than dirty energy,” Charkoudian said.  

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com