Maryland utilities Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and Washington Gas wielded their influence over county officials in recent months in an attempt to halt the implementation of  local electrification policies, according to records obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute.

State and local governments are exploring and adopting electrification policies across the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions and resist the worst impacts of climate change. In Maryland, Frederick County and Baltimore County officials are looking to adopt similar policies that passed in Howard County and Montgomery County, requiring all-electric buildings in new development. Simultaneously, gas utilities and their associated trade groups have been working to weaken or eliminate these policies. Because methane gas is one of the most potent greenhouse gasses contributing to a rapidly warming climate, public officials working to achieve climate goals are also contending with gas utilities attempting to undermine those goals.

BGE wields influence in Howard County’s electrification legislation

In Howard County, records highlight BGE’s involvement in providing testimony and talking points for county council members for Council Bill 5 (CB5). The legislation, which passed at the end of the 2023 legislative session in April, requires recommendations to change county building codes to implement all-electric buildings in order to achieve climate goals. 

Throughout the legislative session and deliberation of CB5, Councilman David Yungmann remained in contact with BGE, the state’s largest gas and electric utility. In an email to BGE’s external affairs manager, Marche Taylor Templeton, Yungmann praised the testimony submitted by BGE, saying he believed it “would dispel lots of myths being promoted by the climate change crowd to their followers.” In response to EPI’s questions, Yungmann said, “Some of the myths I hear around this issue are related to the system’s ability to handle the demand, the immense cost to increase capacity, the relationship between gas and electric costs and how federal policy drives that, or the efficiency of gas furnaces versus heat pumps.” 

Also in January, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns to Yungmann over aspects of the bill that directed the Howard County Department of Inspections and Permits to write a report determining recommendations for the building codes. Yungmann told the Chamber, “Please file for when the real battle on changing the code comes up next year.” In response to questions from EPI, Yungmann said, “While we pushed back against the report, it’s just a report. The substantive debate will be when a bill to actually change the code comes our way.” Yungmann further said he “couldn’t recall” if he alerted the chamber to the bill. 

Concerns over cost and capacity for electrification are addressed in the incentives within the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in U.S. history with specific programs designed to lower electrification costs, particularly for low- or moderate-income households. Maryland’s director for the Office of People’s Counsel (OPC), David Lapp, wrote for local outlet Maryland Matters, also addressing many unsupported myths regarding electrification – noting the fossil fuel industry often propagates them. Lapp highlights an OPC report showing electric appliances that already cost less than their fossil gas alternatives, such as air source heat pumps, and that with federal incentives, the cost of electrification will continue to decline. Further, Lapp calls attention to unsupported commentary that expresses concerns over demand as a tool that “delays the transition away from fossil fuels and serves as a rationale for accelerating the already high levels of gas and electric utility system spending for which utilities earn profits for their investors.” 

Councilperson thanks BGE for letting him “plagiarize” the utility’s testimony

The BGE testimony provided cost estimates for electrification based on BGE’s own projections without providing any citations for where the estimates came from. After the hearing on CB5, Yungmann thanked Templeton for letting him “plagiarize” BGE’s testimony. Two days later, Yungmann’s district aide reached out to Templeton leading up to the Howard County council work session on CB5 to ask a BGE representative to join, calling BGE’s testimony “really compelling.”   

In February, Yungmann proposed several amendments to weaken CB5, including removing the language “for all new construction, major renovations, and additions,” adding language to protect certain gas appliances, and including considerations regarding “system capacity” for recommendations to the building code. In addition to prioritizing gas appliances in an electrification bill, the amendments cut back the number of projects that would require electrification in future developments and use phrasing to falsely imply deficiencies electrification imposes on the reliability of the county’s power supply. Yungmann told EPI that he “doesn’t remember” if he asked for input from BGE for his amendments to weaken electrification in CB5. 

Several other groups provided testimony in opposition to CB5 that also hold connections to BGE. The Howard County Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland Building Industry Association, who each tout BGE as members of their organizations, filed testimonies in opposition to electrification.

Montgomery County electrification fight reveals utility influence

In Montgomery County, records highlight utility involvement in proposing amendments to an electrification bill and the relationship between BGE, Washington Gas, and County Councilmembers. 

Bill 1322, titled Comprehensive Building Decarbonization, requires the County Executive to issue new building codes to be issued with “all electric building” standards for new construction by the end of 2026. 

In late November 2022, BGE emailed the Montgomery County Council President and staff with proposed amendments to Bill 13-22. The amendments focused on extending the timeline for the transition to electric buildings and establishing the same timeline for commercial and large, multi-family buildings. The utility also sent a memo to the county council mischaracterizing the bill as a “ban” on methane gas and warning that passing the bill could remove the county from consideration for future hydrogen projects under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 

Washington Gas also seized their opportunity to include input on the bill, using recent news of a plane colliding with a power line in the county to address the council president, stating, “in light of the power outages across Montgomery County, it’s important for me to reemphasize the resilience benefits of the gas system.” Washington Gas lobbyist Manuel Geraldo further criticized the bill and cited two studies from the American Gas Association, the gas industry’s trade association with a long history of undermining electrification and promoting doubt on climate. 

Despite BGE’s and Washington Gas’ attempts to prevent the policy, the bill unanimously passed in November 2022.

Posted by Keriann Conroy