Op-Ed: Maryland Puts the Grid to the Test While Pennsylvania Pays the Bill

February 29, 2024

By Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23)

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly announced plans to reduce its output of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 60% by 2031. The Climate Pollution Reduction Plan was sold as a roadmap to achieve near-term climate goals and a path to reach net zero emissions by 2045, setting the tone for environmental and energy decision-making throughout the state. The problem with this roadmap is that it leads to nowhere but disruption to the reliability of our electric supply and a higher cost to all ratepayers, including Pennsylvanians. Yes, Pennsylvania ratepayers will pay part of the costs generated by the closure of thermal generation like coal, natural gas, oil, or nuclear facilities in Maryland.

The City of Baltimore is served primarily by a coal-fired thermal electric generation facility known as Brandon Shores. Brandon Shores and the nearby Wagner facility supply approximately 2200 megawatts of thermal electricity to PJM, the organization designated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to manage the mid-Atlantic power grid and the safe and reliable flow of electricity for 65 million people from Chicago to Philadelphia and many places in between.
Talen Energy, the owner of Brandon Shores, had been discussing the conversion of the facility from coal to oil. In mid-2023, unbeknownst to PJM, Talen entered into an agreement with the Sierra Club to close Brandon Shores in June 2025, taking enough electricity to power about 2 million homes from the supply available to the grid.

PJM analyses show that without proper upgrades, the deactivation of Brandon Shores would cause a severe voltage drop across seven PJM zones, leading to a widespread reliability risk not only in Maryland but in the surrounding zones including Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. This is a scenario that FERC Commissioner Mark Christie called “potentially catastrophic.”

But why should Pennsylvanians care? Because Maryland and the City of Baltimore don’t exist in a vacuum, and they will still need electricity. To replace the production at Brandon Shores with solar, it would require a minimum of 15,400 acres of solar panels or about 1400 windmills. There are no such projects underway. The only answer for Maryland, short of shuttering the City of Baltimore, is to import the electric power needed to replace the capacity of Brandon Shores from generation states like Pennsylvania.

To import more electricity into Maryland from other generation facilities requires approximately $800 million worth of upgrades and new construction to high-voltage power lines throughout Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. The cost of the upgrades will be passed onto ratepayers in the areas where the upgrades are made. While the majority of the costs will be borne by Marylanders, about 20% or $160 million will fall on ratepayers in Pennsylvania. The crux of the problem, however, is that the upgrades will not be completed until sometime in 2028.

The real question is, what happens to Maryland and the City of Baltimore for those three years between the announced closure date of June 2025 and the necessary transmission line upgrades which are projected to be completed in 2028? PJM has requested a voluntary agreement to delay the proposed shutdown to allow time to bring replacement power online. So far, that effort has been rejected. Frankly, it is unclear whether Maryland or the City of Baltimore understand the dilemma they are in and just how rapidly disaster is approaching.

Unfortunately, this scenario is being repeated throughout the PJM grid and the United States. The knee-jerk reaction to move to so-called “green energy” is occurring without considering the ramifications of what powers our daily lives. For many years, we have become accustomed to flipping a switch and our lights come on. That reliability rests solely on thermal generation that can be brought online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year without regard to weather, time of day, or duration. The inevitable fact is that as we introduce more of the so-called renewable electric generation, which is intermittent and of limited duration, into the grid, the more the grid will become intermittent and of limited duration. States like Maryland will soon face the consequences of short-sighted energy decisions. Sadly, Pennsylvanians will pay for it.

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Sen. Gene Yaw was elected to represent the 23rd Senatorial District consisting of Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Tioga, and Union counties. He serves as chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.