A state commission is recommending that Maryland ban the installation of building systems powered by natural gas and other fossil fuels beginning in 2025.
Outlined in a draft report by an ad hoc subcommittee of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, the recommendation would prohibit such systems in new residential construction in 2025 and new commercial construction in 2026. The report, which also calls for fuel switching in existing buildings, is influenced by a national campaign by climate advocacy groups to ban the use of fossil fuels and electrify heat and hot water in new and existing buildings.
Meeting the state’s 2050 goal of an economy-wide, 80% reduction in emissions was always expected to require reductions in onsite use of natural gas, fuel oil and propane over the next 30 years.
The state has studied the long-term, macro-economic benefits of climate mitigation but these benefits are difficult to monetize today. Even among ardent advocates, there is a realization that electrification and integration of renewables will increase capital and energy costs for building owners and grid operators.
Mandating all-electric buildings coincides with efforts to accelerate generation of electricity from renewable sources which must reach 50% by 2030 under state law.
The cost and reliability of that energy mix will depend heavily on the ability of energy producers, grid operators, utilities and customers to match power supply with demand. Power demands on the grid change constantly and prime renewable sources, namely solar and wind, are intermittent. Consequently, load balancing is more challenging on an electric grid that is using a large percentage of renewable energy.
To succeed, this grid of the future will need to be high tech and sensible; an integrated, lower carbon energy generation system made less expensive and more reliable by fully utilizing the interconnected assets of utility operators and their customers. In theory, electric demand is more flexible and costs are reduced by pairing electrification with onsite power generation, battery storage and microgrid construction. Such a system would also need to give consumers the tools to respond to incentives or penalties for energy use during time periods deemed by utility operators to be critical for load balancing.
The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) and the General Assembly will be taking steps over the next five years to study and establish a framework for a reliable energy transition. Those proceedings have been fuel-neutral, holistic, deliberate and customer-focused as they study the related technologies, economic and environmental issues. The calendar-based natural gas ban proposed in the draft commission report is bad policy that promises a disruptive and fraught transition for building owners and utility customers.