About Me

Rockville, MD, United States
Clean Currents is a clean energy broker/aggregator licensed by the Maryland Public Service Commission, the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, and the District of Columbia Public Service Commission. We operate in Maryland, Pennsylvania, DC, Chicago, Texas, and other areas where there is a competitive electricity market. We are committed to promoting solutions to today’s biggest environmental challenges – global warming and air pollution.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is Garbage the New Green?

Is Garbage the New Green? Anybody out there want to buy “clean energy” produced by garbage incineration? Can you see any of our business customers putting up a banner at their store saying, “100% powered by garbage burning?” The answers to those questions in the real world of the free market would be “no” and “no.” But in the bizaro land that Annapolis can sometimes be, a majority of our political leaders voted FOR a bill to include garbage incineration as a clean, renewable energy resource along with wind and solar and voted AGAINST requiring the utilities to support offshore wind power. I guess in Annapolis, garbage is the new “green.”

The Maryland General Assembly’s 2011 Session is thankfully over. They can’t do any more damage. But let’s see what they did manage to accomplish in their three months of work. Check out this year’s list of bills that made it or got killed, followed by my own “Thanks” and “Spanks” for some of our elected officials. It’s a long blog, but worth the read, trust me.

Bills – Good News

Pepco… errr, “utility” reliability standards (HB 391/SB 692) The General Assembly passed a bill to require our state’s utilities to meet certain reasonable standards for service and power reliability or face penalties. The bill was a priority of the Governor’s and was supported by the Montgomery County delegation. Once implemented, this bill will hopefully put Pepco at the top of the nation in terms of service to its customers, instead of near the bottom where it appears to have been comfortably ensconced for years.

Consumer Choice Education - This bill requires that Maryland create a web site to provide consumers more information about customer electricity choice and direct them to the various options they have. It works well in other states, such as Pennsylvania, where consumers have more information available at their fingertips. An educated consumer is the best thing for the electricity market, as that will discourage some of these multi-level marketers and others who offer shady deals on “variable” pricing and make specious claims about supporting green power.

Electric Vehicles The Governor put forth several bills to start Maryland on the extremely important path of building an infrastructure for electric vehicles. As these vehicles become more available, states will be competing for the jobs associated with the industry, and building the consumer base that the market needs. Governor O’Malley’s bills put Maryland ahead of other states in starting to formulate the rules we need to build a strong electric vehicle market here.

Solar Thermal RECs This bill allows solar thermal heating systems to qualify for the state’s Solar Renewable Portfolio Standard. In plain English, it means that residents and businesses will be able to get solar thermal systems (to replace nat gas water heating, for example) at significantly reduced costs. It will lead to large growth in the solar thermal industry, bringing more green jobs and economic activity to Maryland.

Benefit LLC Last year, Maryland become one of the first state’s in the nation to legally recognized the designation of “Benefit Corp” for corporations that put sustainability and transparency into their operating documents and register with the state. It’s a way for companies that really walk the green walk to distinguish their operations from the companies that just talk green, or do it as a marketing ploy. But the legislature forgot to include LLC’s, a fairly common form of business in the state, as part of this designation. Now, they have corrected this mistake and opened the doors for “Benefit LLCs.” You can bet that a certain local green energy company you know will be the first to achieve this designation when the law goes into effect on June 1st!

Bills – Bad News

Garbage Burning - In one of the wackier moves I’ve seen in my 11 years following the Maryland General Assembly, our elected leaders reversed their 2004 vote on the state’s clean energy standard and decided that garbage burning is actually clean and renewable after all. What new information caused our legislators to wake up and change their mind? Nothing. The situation is exactly the same as it was back in 2004. Garbage is still garbage. The environmental community was uniformly opposed, as it was back in 2004. The garbage incinerators in Maryland are still operating just as they were in 2004. The only seeming difference between now and 2004 is that the leadership of the House and Senate (and the Governor’s office) all pushed hard for classifying garbage as green, whereas in 2004 they didn’t. Also, legislators saw this bill as a quick way to bilk ratepayers of some money that could be sent to counties that run these plants (ie. a tax that nobody will know about). The other difference – in 2004 all the usual good environmental champions in the legislature stood firmly against garbage burning, whereas this year some of them went over to the other side (see “garbage gang” below). So, the bill will charge us ratepayers to put money in the owners of garbage incinerators in Maryland (plants that don’t need our money). This makes any claim by lawmakers who oppose the offshore wind bill on the grounds of “protecting ratepayers” extremely specious.

Offshore Wind This bill was a top priority of Governor O’Malley, supported by environmentalists, labor, and progressive businesses like Clean Currents. Still, the legislature didn’t pass it. The big argument appeared to be concern about cost to ratepayers, certainly a legitimate issue to discuss. But even when the Governor agreed to cap the cost to ratepayers, legislators didn’t budge. When faced with putting the cost of garbage incineration on ratepayers, our elected leaders had no problem voting yes. When asked to do the same for wind, they said no. Hmmmm…..

Renewable Energy Surcharge This was a bill that would have funded the Maryland Clean Energy Center, protected people already buying clean energy, and funded our efficiency, solar, wind, and geothermal programs. It was structured in a way that would have meant most residential ratepayers would pay no surcharge at all. It was killed because our elected leaders said they were going to vote for the offshore wind bill and didn’t want to vote for two charges in one year. Yeah, that worked out just like they told us it would!

Two Year Moratorium on Fracking in the Marcellus Shale- In the irony department - the weekend the New York Times and Washington Post run stories about a new report that says natural gas fracking in the Marcellus Shale and elsewhere is actually worse from a climate change perspective than coal power, the Maryland Senate killed a bill that would have required a couple of years of study on the environmental impact of fracking in Maryland. The House had passed the measure already. It would seem that this new study would give Senators pause to think maybe a couple of years more study is warranted. Not in Annapolis world, I guess.


Delegate Derrick Davis – this is a mild “thanks.” The Chairman of the House Economic Matters actually did kill several good clean energy bills, and pushed hard for the “garbage is green” bill, but his strong support for offshore wind outweighs that. He just needs to get a little more decisive and move quicker next time, to enable advocates to round up the votes they need in the Senate for good bills.

Delegate Tom Hucker – He was the point man on the offshore wind bill in Economic Matters and the only Montgomery County delegate on the committee with the courage to vote against the “garbage is green” bill in committee.

Governor Martin O’Malley – He showed great leadership on offshore wind and pushed hard. He also put forth several good proposals on electric vehicles, which passed.

Delegate Heather Mizeur – This Montgomery County Delegate has already been a great force for more open government and now she’s taking on important environmental issues like natural gas fracking in the Marcellus Shale. Her leadership was strong.


Delegate Brian McHale – Of all people, Delegate McHale should have know better than to be the chief sponsor of the “garbage is green” bill. He was there in 2004 and knew how controversial this bill was. After implying to folks that he was just going through the motions on putting the bill in, he fought hard for it and is largely responsible for its passage.

Sen. Mac Middleton – The chief sponsor of the “garbage is green” bill in the Senate, Middleton is also in the category of “should have known better.” Not only did he support the bill, he did something I never saw in my 11 years in Annapolis. He fast tracked the bill. In fact, he had his committee vote on the bill the same day it was heard and immediately brought it to the Senate floor before anyone had a time to do outreach about it. He also gave short thrift to the renewable energy surcharge.

Delegate Ben Kramer – A disappointing start to his second term as a Delegate. Ben launched his first campaign for office prominently featuring him and his family in Chesapeake Bay settings, talking about his love for the environment. Yet this session he consistently remained unsympathetic to environmentally related bills. On offshore wind, he refused to come out for the bill, despite the many emails and calls he got from his constituents (including your’s truly). He supported the “garbage is green” bill, where he didn’t seem to mind giving ratepayer money for garbage incineration. Yet on offshore wind, he dismissed facts and arguments in favor of the bill while highlighting arguments against the bill. That doesn’t sound like a champion for protecting the Chesapeake. Let’s hope next year goes a little better.

Sen. EJ Pipkin – The Wall Street trader- turned politician has been consistent in his opposition to clean energy bills and his constant attack on customer choice for electricity. He is among the most powerful anti-clean energy forces in the Senate because of his position on the Finance Committee and his single-minded doggedness in fighting clean power.

The Garbage Gang

Finally, here are some of the legislators that want to sell you on “garbage is green.” Some of these folks come from very environmentally conscious districts. Some were endorsed by enviro groups, and even had enviro advocates actively campaign for them. Yet, when the garbage hit the fan, these people were all too willing to ignore their allies and vote for garbage power. This is not a comprehensive list. Just a few of the highlighted members of the garbage gang.

The House Garbage Gang: Del. Brian Feldman, Del. Cathy Dumais, Del. Anne Kaiser, Del. Charles Barkley, Del. Aruna Miller, Del. Brian McHale

The Senate Garbage Gang: Sen. Rob Garagiola (the only Senator from Montgomery County who voted for this controversial bill), Sen. Catherine Pugh, Sen. Anthony Muse, Sen. Jim Mathias, and Sen. Ulysses Currie.

The conclusion from all this is that we cannot ever take anything for granted. Concerned citizens have to constantly keep on top of their legislators to keep them honest.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Home Stretch in Maryland

It’s down to the wire in Maryland’s General Assembly for any bills still alive in the closing week of this year’s session. Any bill not passed by Midnight on April 11th is dead for the year. This is the time that a little extra effort can sway those legislators sitting on the fence about a bill. Check out the status of a few key energy bills and then take action by contacting your local legislator (if you live in Maryland, of course!).

HB 1054/SB 861 – Offshore Wind – This bill is the top priority of the Governor’s office as well as a slew of environmental groups, labor unions, and even some businesses. It would bring offshore wind to Maryland, reducing our dependence on fossil fuel powered energy sources, bringing green jobs to our state, and reducing the amount of electricity Maryland imports. The Senate has indicated that it will wait for the House to move first on this bill. The House Economic Matters Committee is deliberating the bill now and could vote as early as today (Thursday). The vote will be close and could be decided by one Delegate’s decision to support the bill or not.

The utility (ie. Pepco) reliability bills are still alive. Two of the bills have been killed in committee, but the main bill is making progress and could pass.

HB 391/Sb 692 – passed both houses with amendments. Senator Frosh Amendment rejected.
HB 391/SB 692 – The House version (HB 391, chief sponsor is Montgomery County Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15). Most of the other MoCo legislators are on board with this and it was a O’Malley Administration priority. The bill passed the House and now awaits action in the Senate. The Senate version is sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mac Middleton (D-Charles County). Many MoCo Senators are on board as well. The bill passed the Senate, though a great Amendment to not allow rate increases to pay for downed wires, by Sen. Brian Frosh (D-MoCo) failed. This bill would require Pepco and the other utilities to achieve certain minimum performance standards or face serious penalties from the Public Service Commission. The bill would strive to put Pepco and the other utilities at the top of the class, rather than the bottom, nationally. The next step is for each chamber to pass the other chamber’s version, or alternatively go to conference and agree to compromise on any differences.

The other utility reliability bills were killed in committee.

HB 1278 – which would have prevented Pepco and others from charging customers for time when the power is out died in committee, but did get favorable votes from MoCo Delegates – Hucker, Kramer, Barkley, Feldman, and by Committee Vice Chair, David Rudolph.

HB 1171/SB 749 – The other utility reliability bill died in the Senate Finance Committee, receiving no favorable votes from any Senator.
Another bill that died recently is HB 1123/SB 715 – a bill that would have required utilities to enter into long term contracts for Solar RECs. It was supported by the solar industry and the environmental community, but the Senate Finance Committee voted it down.

Finally, a bill that would allow garbage incineration to count as clean energy like wind and solar in Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is thankfully looking almost dead. The Senate version, SB 690, passed the Senate so quickly, the environmental community didn’t even have a chance to do any outreach to Senators about the bill. But the bill is now stuck in the House, looking like it will go nowhere after the environmental community and certain clean energy businesses let legislators know about the concerns with this piece.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Support Offshore Wind Power Testimony

The following is the testimony that Gary Skulnik will provide in support of Governor Martin O'Malley's bill to build offshore wind power off the Maryland coast.

On behalf of Clean Currents, a Rockville based clean energy marketer, I ask you to support HB 1054 with the attached amendments. The amendments we are offering address the following issues:

1.) Customers purchasing wind energy through electricity suppliers should be exempt from the surcharge.
2.) RECs should be sold to the voluntary market.
3.) Industrial ratepayers should share the burden with every other ratepayer.

Clean Currents is a unique energy marketer and we bring a very unique perspective to this important piece of legislation. We are the only energy marketer in Maryland that is exclusively focused on providing green power to our customers. We are the only energy marketer in Maryland that is certified as a B-Corp, a third party independent confirmation of our sustainable business operations. We are probably the only energy marketer in the state that is supporting this offshore wind energy bill. We support this bill because we know that we need to make a major energy transition in Maryland to address significant issues like clean air, climate change, in-state generation, and the creation of green jobs. The installation of offshore wind will do much to bring Maryland one step closer to a true clean energy future.

As an energy marketer, we believe in the benefit of the competitive market in Maryland. The competitive market benefits consumers and helps spur private sector growth. It also spurs innovative products and services that the traditional utilities are either too slow to adopt or unwilling to adopt. We do not believe that this bill will harm the competitive market in any meaningful way. It was written in a way that preserves the competitive market in Maryland.

We have three amendments we’d like to propose. We hope that the first two would be considered friendly amendments by the bill’s sponsors and supporters.

1. Marylanders who are purchasing wind energy through competitive electricity suppliers should be exempt from any surcharge for offshore wind.

It’s an issue of fairness, first and foremost. If a resident or business is already doing their part to support the creation of new clean energy generation, they should not be asked to pay twice. Also, if this amendment is not adopted, the bill may have the unintended consequence of depressing the voluntary clean energy market. I do not believe this is the intent of the bill’s sponsors. If consumers believe they would be paying for wind twice, they are less likely to switch to a wind energy product provided by a competitive energy supplier. Our ability to grow market share would be harmed if this amendment is not adopted.

There would be some implementation issues to resolve if this amendment is adopted, but they should not be overly difficult. Montgomery County managed to track clean energy purchases in conjunction with competitive energy suppliers and the utilities through its Clean Energy Rewards Program. The Public Service Commission could simply follow that model.

2. RECs should be allowed to be sold to whoever wants to buy them.

The current language in the bill requires the utilities to sell the RECs from the offshore wind projects to entities that will use them for compliance with the Maryland RPS. But what if a company like Clean Currents or others wants to buy additional RECs to sell to Marylanders as a “Maryland Wind” product? That should not be prohibited. In fact, if REC sales are opened up to any buyer, thus increasing the demand side, the price of these RECs is likely to go up, which will help keep the costs of the offshore wind to consumers down.

3. Industrial ratepayers should not be exempt from the surcharge at any level of usage.

The workers at large steel plants or other manufacturers stand the most to gain from the jobs associated with offshore wind production. In fact, the wind turbines used to produce offshore wind power have to be manufactured close to the place they would be used, so they cannot be made in China or India. They will almost certainly be made in Maryland or somewhere close. If the manufacturers are thus benefiting from this bill, they should share the cost of the bill with all the other ratepayers. This will help bring down the cost to the other ratepayers and would be the most fair thing to do.

In conclusion, Clean Currents has been proud to be actively supporting offshore wind for Maryland. We have helped get petitions signed, publicize events, and supported the lobbying efforts of the environmental advocacy groups. We ask you to give HB 1054 a FAVORABLE report with the amendments we are proposing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Support Clean Energy Benefit Fund

Senate Bill 304, The Clean Energy Benefit Fund, provides a much needed stable source of funding for the promotion of vital clean energy business sectors in Maryland. The bill, sponsored by Senator Roger Manno (D-19) and Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15) would direct much of the funding to the newly established Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC). MCEC provides an innovative, non-governmental structure where private businesses, the public, and others can come together to quickly develop programs or ideas to spark clean energy growth.

The bill is designed to encourage efficiency or on-site solar adoption. It puts a small charge on residential electric ratepayers for every kilowatt-hour above 1,000 they use in a given month. Importantly for many Clean Currents customers, if ratepayers are purchasing 100% green energy for their home, they are exempt from the charge. Thus, residents whose homes are more efficient, or who use solar, or buy green power will face no or very little charge.
The bill does not effect the Maryland budget – a very important thing to note in these tough budget times.
The bill is expected to raise $12 to $16 million a year. The money would be used to fund solar, geothermal, and small wind grants through the Maryland Energy Administration. It would also be used to fund energy efficiency programs/consumer incentives through MCEC. And it would fund other programs at MCEC, such as a technology innovation grant program.
From a clean energy business perspective, this bill will make Maryland a more attractive place to come. We already have a very good market design for green power (through customer choice), solar installations (though the state Renewable Portfolio Standard) and energy efficiency (through Empower Maryland). But we lack a stable, reliable funding source for programs and a powerful economic development catalyst like the MCEC. This bill would solve both of those problems, and bring new clean energy jobs to Maryland.
As a green power marketer and an environmentally conscious company, we firmly believe that there should be incentives for consumers to choose clean energy, whether it’s a clean energy generator on their roof such as a solar pv system, or its clean energy through efficiency measures, or clean electricity through providers like Clean Currents. Maryland and the Federal government have provided incentives for the first two options. Now it’s time to provide incentives for the clean electricity choice. Montgomery County successfully demonstrated how incentives can grow markets, create jobs and help the environment with its Clean Energy Rewards Program. Now the state can do so on a broader scale by the adoption of Senate Bill 304.
We applaud Senators Manno and Garagiola for their leadership on this bill. The hearing in the Senate Finance Committee is February 15th. If you’d like to help get it passed, please let us know! Email us at gogreen@cleancurrents.com

Thursday, January 13, 2011

China at the Crossroads

Over the holidays, I had the privilege to be flown to China to speak to a conference of Chinese energy industry professionals about clean energy. I was treated extremely well and enjoyed the chance to see some incredible sites in Beijing and nearby. But most importantly, I valued the chance to throw my two cents into the conversation the Chinese are having about the next five to ten years of energy development. China is about to embark on its next five year plan and people are already discussing what the country’s energy future will look like. In my short time in Beijing, I could see that the country is at a critical crossroads as it relates to its (and the world’s) energy future.

The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Beijing is the air pollution. I’ve heard talk of it, but until you actually experience it, it’s hard to fathom. The air is literally thick. It’s smoky, as if there are a thousand campfires burning in your area. The other thing that hits you pretty quickly in Beijing is the traffic. It is the worst I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve lived in New York, DC, Atlanta and Miami. The roads are clogged with all kinds of cars and trucks, many of them looking fairly new.

China’s challenge, and it’s opportunity, in the next five year plan is to minimize the traffic and air pollution problems it faces by leaping forward to a clean energy economy. Specifically, it should invest heavily in electric vehicles and the infrastructure they need, mass transit and smart growth, and clean energy production.

The first step is to build more wind, solar and other renewable energy generation plants, along with transmission capacity to deliver the power. Even with increased efficiency and better conservation, China’s energy demand is only going to go up. Meeting that new demand with clean energy resources would be a major first step towards a cleaner environment.

The opportunity for electric vehicles in China is enormous. They are just now developing their infrastructure for gas powered vehicles. It is a great time to instead build out electric charging stations. Electric vehicles obviously would greatly contribute to cleaning up the air in cities like Beijing. But because they charge up at night and can put power back on the grid during the peak demand (daylight) hours, they also reduce the need for fossil fuel based peak power generation units.

Smart growth is a concept whereby communities build in urban centers, with work, play, and amenities all in a walkable community. Instead of building cities out, you build up. In China, it seems that most urban dwellers are already used to the idea of living in apartments, but in Beijing they’ve been building the city ever more outward to the point where it spreads out for miles in each direction. Rebuilding the city’s urban core and attracting new residents there will do much to alleviate the traffic problem.

At the energy conference, I spoke about much of this. The audience seemed receptive and frankly, many in China are already thinking about these ideas. There seems to be increasing recognition that China needs to drastically change its development course. Just a few days after I left, the government announced proposals to reduce the number of cars allowed in Beijing.

China is a very fascinating country and I hope to explore it more one day. We in the west have certainly made our share of mistakes in terms of energy choices and urban development. It would be a shame for China to follow those mistakes. Instead, they can learn from what we did wrong and move directly to the solutions phase. Not only would the Chinese people be better off, but so would the rest of the world.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A New Simple Test of Green

A New Simple Test for Green

Back in July, I blogged about a simple test that environmentally conscious consumers could use to separate the truly green companies from those that merely use green as a marketing ploy or green washing. I’m proud to say that Clean Currents has recently taken a step to draw an even brighter line between our actions and sustainability commitment as a company vs. those in our industry who merely talk a good green game.

Clean Currents achieved certification as a “B Corp.”

This is a huge step. B Corp certification, run by the non profit group, B Lab, is one of the most stringent sustainability certification models in the nation. We are the first company in Montgomery County, and the fourth in the entire state of Maryland to achieve this advanced certification.
Being a certified B Corp means we are subject to a third party audit to verify the sustainability of our business practice. The B Corp web site best describes what this certification means:
Certified B Corporations are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are unlike traditional businesses because they:
• Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards;
• Meet higher legal accountability standards;
• Build business constituency for good business

There are currently no other energy companies in Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania or Delaware that are certified as a B Corporation. Clean Currents is the only one. We are proud of that and will continue to work to live up to the expectations that come with this designation. Check out more about B Corp HERE.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Competitive Markets and Wind Power are a Great Match

The American Wind Energy Association recently put out a statement supporting competitive wholesale electricity markets. It’s great to see the nation’s premier wind industry association take a positive stand on the kind of market structure we have here in the Mid Atlantic (with the exception of Virginia). Clean Currents supports the rapid deployment of wind energy in our region and the continuation (and growth) of competitive energy markets. Consumers and the environment both benefit from our open markets.

According to a joint AWEA/Compete statement, nearly 80% of U.S. installed wind capacity is located in regions with competitive energy markets, yet these areas only have 44% of U.S. wind energy potential. A competitive energy market is a market where consumers have the ability to choose their electricity supplier. The utilities don’t control the entire chain of production of electricity, from generation through distribution. The opposite, a monopoly market, is where the incumbent utility controls everything and consumers (and generators) have no choice but to go with them. In Maryland, DC, Delaware, and Pennsylvania we are fortunate to have an open, competitive market.

It’s not surprising that a competitive market is better for wind energy development. The incumbent utilities, if they are in a monopoly with no competition, are not the best vehicles to help development alternative energy. They don’t know how to sell or market it, and they are in no rush to invest in it. In short, they are not innovators.

Companies like Clean Currents are constantly thinking of new ways to expand the clean energy market. Given the right market structure, with proper government incentives, we can develop even more wind power in this region. We are excited to be working with Governor O’Malley and other leaders to craft proposals that will bring offshore wind closer to reality. That’s part of our business model – building demand for green power and working on positive environmental legislation. We are going to push a model that will promote more wind power while building on the success of the competitive energy market. The two go hand in hand.