Work Group Reviews, Reimagines EmPOWER Maryland Programs

Tasked with a sweeping, detailed and vital task, 170 participants in the Future Programming Work Group have dug into a nine-month plan to review and propose revisions to the operations of EmPOWER Maryland.

The Work Group – which includes representatives from utilities, state and local governments, energy-focused organizations and individual companies – began holding weekly meetings in April and is slated to complete its work next January. At that time, it will deliver a comprehensive report to the Maryland General Assembly which will form the basis of legislation that determines EmPOWER Maryland’s programs for the next three years.

The Work Group’s deliberations have been organized around six core topics:

  • Carbon abatement/greenhouse gas structure;
  • Low- and Middle-Income (LMI) goals, programs and climate equity;
  • Energy efficiency, demand-response programs, distributed energy resources, and fuel switching;
  • Evaluation protocols and cost-effectiveness;
  • Legislation, third-party opportunities and funding;
  • Cost recovery (performance incentive mechanisms) and bill impacts.

Over multiple meetings in July and August, the Work Group is focusing on LMI goals, programs and climate equity. Several participating groups – including the Office of People’s Council, Maryland Energy Efficiency Advocates and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy – have proposed multiple measures for improving EmPOWER Maryland services to the LMI population. Those include adopting additional metrics to better track EmPOWER’s LMI service levels, conducting expanded outreach by partnering with other services providers in lower-income communities, and supporting workforce development programs in disadvantaged communities.

Representatives of the Building Performance Association noted that building a skilled workforce is critical to the success of EmPOWER and that more could be done to prioritize minorities and women for training that enables them to secure employment in energy efficiency businesses. Such an initiative would also generate needed workforce for existing contractors and small businesses who comprise Maryland’s energy efficiency industry.

In recent months, participants in the Future Programming Work Group have also discussed the number and nature of goals that EmPOWER Maryland should be tasked with meeting. Representatives of the Maryland Energy Administration proposed goals in reductions of electricity and natural gas usage, peak usage reductions, lifetime energy savings and targeted reductions that ensure three main sectors (residential, commercial and industrial) all achieve a fair share of energy-use improvements annually.

Representatives of utilities participating in EmPOWER Maryland stated that the program should focus on an overarching greenhouse gas reduction goal and a limited number of Supporting Parameters for Program Design (SPPD). The utilities described this as a reasonable approach which would give them sufficient flexibility to design, develop and deliver EmPOWER Maryland programs. More extensive lists of SPPDs, the utilities said, could create excessive complexities, drive the development of complicated programs and ultimately undermine the utilities’ ability to focus on attaining the State of Maryland’s GHG reduction goal.

Multiple participants in the Work Group meetings also advocated for measures that will enable EmPOWER Maryland to embrace innovations in clean energy and energy efficient technologies in order to expand opportunities to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland.

Participants in the EmPOWER Maryland Future Programming Work Group have not yet reached any decisions on the topics being evaluated. The Work Group’s meetings will continue through to January.