Gov. Robert Ehrlich proposed Monday that the state government buy 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar power as part of a push to make Maryland a national leader in fuel conservation.
The administration will flaunt its commitment to alternative energy by installing solar power systems on a number of prominent public buildings, including the State Center office complex in downtown Baltimore and the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Ehrlich and other administration officials said.
Ehrlich made the announcements at the North American headquarters in Frederick of BP Solar, a photovoltaic manufacturing division of the British energy company BP PLC.
"We need to get with it," the Republican governor said. "We want to be No. 1 when it comes to alternative energy in the United States of America."
Ehrlich also pitched Maryland as the site for a $500 million biosciences energy research laboratory BP aims to build somewhere in the United States or the United Kingdom.
Currently, none of the 1 billion kilowatts of electricity the state government uses annually come from renewable sources despite a 2001 executive order signed by Ehrlich's Democratic predecessor, Parris Glendening, requiring the state to obtain 6 percent of its electricity from alternatives to fossil fuels, said Michal Li, renewable energy specialist with the Maryland Energy Administration. Li said no budget was ever established for the Glendening program.
Brad Heavner, state director of the advocacy group Environment Maryland said he hoped Ehrlich's enthusiasm for alternative energy wasn't just election-year talk.
"My feeling is, show me the contracts. We've been hearing promises like this for six years," Heavner said.
Ehrlich's program would give preference to in-state providers and those that produce the least harmful emissions while exploiting underused resources for both electricity and biofuel production.
Ehrlich specifically mentioned wood fiber, which Heavner said probably would mean increased use of "forest residue," the cut branches that are left behind by conventional logging practices. Advocates say the fiber is wasted if not used, but Heavner said some environmentalists oppose increased use of wood fiber because it could encourage more logging of public lands.