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Maryland's Next Climate Challenge: Electrifying Homes for Low-income Marylanders

January 23, 2023
By
Susan Stevens Miller Senior Attorney

New report shines a light on Maryland’s opportunity to weave together policies and funding streams to leave no household behind as the state goes electric

Maryland is in the driver’s seat when it comes to climate action after passing a bold climate solutions bill last year to electrify everything from school buses to trucks and cars, and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2031. But the state is only getting started. With Governor Wes Moore’s ambitious climate platform, the state is well-positioned to dig deeper and shift homes and buildings to clean energy by electrifying our appliances, and in doing so cut out a hefty chunk of nasty indoor pollution for families.

Electrifying homes in Maryland is especially urgent in light of new research making waves this month that shows gas stoves are responsible for nearly 13% of childhood asthma cases in the United States. This is because gas stoves can emit heavy doses of nitrogen dioxide, a form of air pollution known to trigger asthma and other breathing problems. These issues worsen in low-income households who are likely to live in high-density spaces with less ventilation available to them.

Read the full report here.

But it’s not just about stoves — it’s about all appliances in our homes. New electric options like two-way heat pumps to replace dated gas furnaces, and electric hot water heaters to replace old gas versions, are on the market and outdoing their old gas counterparts. They’re far more energy efficient, work faster, help protect our climate, and won’t pollute our homes.

With Maryland in a newfound era of climate leadership, it can be a trailblazer in how it maps out a wide lens approach to electrifying homes in the state. A new report from Earthjustice, the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Sierra Club Maryland lights a path for legislators and policymakers in the state to ensure that every family in the state is able to make the shift to electric, especially low-income households.

  1. Focus on electrifying low-income households by 2030.
    Maryland policymakers and legislators should prioritize electrifying homes for low-income residents in order to focus funding streams and resources where they’re most needed, and concentrate resources where landlords may not be otherwise incentivized to upgrade homes (60% of low-income Marylanders rent their homes). Maryland can hit this goal by 2030, setting a trend for the rest of the country.

  2. Use a whole home approach.
    Maryland can also launch a unified whole-home retrofit program that pairs with electrification, providing weatherization services like improved insulation for maximum efficiency, repairing roofs and wiring, and providing energy assistance like utility bill support and access to rooftop solar programs.

  3. Weave $2 billion in state and federal funding streams together for maximum benefits.
    Maryland’s existing housing assistance and energy policies are disparate and uncoordinated, leaving the state’s low-income residents underserved and leaving key climate opportunities on the table. Maryland policymakers and legislators should align, braid, and coordinate state and federal funding streams to speed up Maryland’s climate action and electrification. New unique and unparalleled streams of federal funding, including the Inflation Reduction Act, offer an opportunity for Maryland to kickstart an innovative program to upgrade, repair, and electrify Maryland’s low-income homes simultaneously. This funding, combined with other federal and state sources, presents $2 billion in funding opportunities for whole-home repairs in Maryland. 

  4. Establish long-term utility planning to get off gas and go electric.
    Looking ahead, Maryland should adopt a plan requiring the Public Service Commission to plan a managed decommissioning of the existing gas distribution system as electrification efforts take hold across Maryland. The state should also sunset STRIDE, a program that incentives utilities to keep replacing gas lines, amounting to one of the most expensive programs ever undertaken in Maryland with substantial cost implications for ratepayers into the next century.

More than one-fifth of Maryland’s population, or 450,000 households, qualify as low-income. While the majority live in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, at least one-fourth of households in the more rural Eastern Shore and Western counties are low-income. In other words, low-income Marylanders in both urban and rural areas of the state would benefit greatly from a policy approach that prioritizes electrifying their homes.

When it comes to our homes where so much of our daily lives play out, every Marylander deserves a modern upgrade and clean air. It’s time to build an electric future for Maryland at every income level.

Read the Full Report

A father supervises his teenage kids while preparing food at home on an electric rangetop appliance.

A father supervises his teenage kids while preparing food at home on an electric rangetop appliance.

Halfpoint Images / Getty Images