The Montgomery County Group focuses on local issues, including improving public transit, maintaining clean water sources, supporting and monitoring the county's Climate Protection Plan, and endorsing and supporting green candidates. The Executive Committee of the Montgomery Group meets the third Monday of each month. Please contact our chair Dave Sears (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you'd like to join us.
On June 9, 2015, Michal Freedman of the Montgomery County Executive Committee testified to the County Council regarding the establishment of the Montgomery County Green Bank. Below is her testimony:
My name is Michal Freedman and I am here as a member of the Montgomery County Sierra Club Executive Committee representing the more than 5,000 Sierra Club members in Montgomery County. I am here to express the Club’s support for Bill 18-15 establishing the Montgomery County Green Bank, and to recommend a few amendments to the bill.
As you know, our world is facing an immense and complex challenge: the need to establish, in the very near future, thousands of clean energy projects to transition the world’s fossil fuel economy to one that is based on clean, renewable energy. In order to accomplish this, financing obviously is essential. Direct government investment, government grants and subsidies, and private investment all have critical roles to play in defraying the up-front costs of building the new low-carbon economy. But these sources may not be enough, especially since clean energy projects face special financing challenges that conventional energy projects do not. Thus, it is important to look for new ways in which to accomplish the financing that is needed.
Recently, several states, including Connecticut and Hawaii, have pioneered the concept of creating “green banks.” This entails the establishment of new institutions to enable government and the private sector to combine and leverage public resources with private-sector funds to fund clean energy projects. These green banks are already promoting cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy.
Accordingly, we in the Sierra Club are excited that Montgomery County is poised to join the green-bank movement. Bill 18-15, if enacted and adequately funded, will be of tremendous benefit to county residents who need help in turning to clean energy. The Sierra Club supports the bill’s statement of purposes for the new green bank, the bank’s organizational structure, and the establishment of a Green Bank Work Group to develop recommendations for implementing the bank.
We also have several recommendations for clarifying and improving the bill.
First, we recommend that the Purpose Section of the bill, which lists the kind of projects covered, be expanded to explicitly reference nonprofit projects. Nonprofit facilities such as childcare centers and religious institutions, many of which are in use weekday, evenings and weekends, would stand to benefit substantially by reducing utility costs..
Second, we recommend broadening the definition of “energy efficiency project”, which as currently drafted, is restricted to single-family homes. We urge deleting this restriction so that efficiency projects encompass multi-family housing and other projects. Several studies document how increasing energy efficiency in multi-family housing offers multiple major benefits in terms of reduced emissions, reduced energy bills for low-income residents (thus making housing more affordable) and healthier environments. According to a recent NRDC Report, “Energy expenditures per square foot in rented multifamily apartments are 38 percent higher than in owner-occupied single-family detached homes. Despite this, energy efficiency measures are far less likely to be found in multifamily apartments compared to other housing types.” This is an important area for the Bank to support.
Third, while we agree that membership on the board of directors should be broad and diverse, we suggest a few small changes in this regard. Instead of specifying that the board include “representatives of residential or low income groups,” we think it preferable to try to include representatives of both types of groups, at least in part because the issues related to multi-family housing often differ from those of single family home owners. We also think that the bill should provide that efforts be made for the board to be representative of the County’s racially and ethnically diverse population.
Fourth, we think that the Green Bank Work Group would benefit by including at least one representative of environmental organizations.
Lastly, we are greatly concerned by the specific inclusion of two types of renewable energies whose status as clean, low-carbon energy sources is in doubt. These are biomass and methane gas captured from a landfill. Both biomass and methane gas are carbon-based energy sources, unlike solar and wind.
As recounted in the recent article in the Washington Post, biomass is a growing energy source both here in the United States and in Europe. However, if done improperly, the use of biomass for energy production can produce significant harm to the environment. Biomass, if done in moderation, is potentially sustainable and carbon neutral but only if the amount of regrowth balances the emissions, and only if biomass does not rely on unsustainable forestry and agricultural practices. Unless very carefully managed, the harvesting of plants and trees for biomass operations may damage soil health or fail to assure sustainable regrowth. Biomass projects that grow plants to be harvested as fuel or energy sources require individualized, project-by-project, evaluations of land use, allocation of water resources, the use of any fertilizers or other agricultural chemicals, and the proposed combustion technology.
Reliance on landfill gas to generate electricity is even more problematic. Landfills that contain decomposable organic products produce a substantial volume of methane gas. Methane, in turn, is essentially carbon dioxide on steroids in terms of its climate impact. In theory, using this methane gas to generate electricity could have a beneficial climate impact. In practice, however, that is highly questionable. This is because the benefits obtained are likely greatly outweighed by increases in uncontrolled (“fugitive”) methane emissions resulting from the landfill management methods apparently practiced at many projects that aim to increase revenues by increasing and accelerating the amount of methane being produced.
More information may be found regarding using biomass and landfill methane to generate electricity in policy statements included on the national Sierra Club’s website. http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/energy.
For these reasons, we urge Montgomery County to be cautious in endorsing the financing of biomass or landfill methane projects through a green bank. Specifically, we recommend that instead of affirmatively defining “renewable energy source[s]” to include biomass and landfill methane, the bill should take a middle position by neither including them nor excluding them. In other words, these two energy sources should be omitted from the list of “renewable energy source[s]” but would not be named (along with petroleum, nuclear, natural gas, and coal) in the list of excluded energy sources. This would allow the Green Bank Work Group, and perhaps the bank’s board of directors thereafter, flexibility in deciding whether to use any of the bank’s funds to promote these two energy sources.
In conclusion, the Montgomery County Sierra Club fully supports the county’s effort to establish a Montgomery County Green Bank, and recommends the inclusion of the bill amendments that I have described in my testimony today.
Thank you for allowing us to participate in this important endeavor, and we look forward to continuing to work with the County to bring a county green bank into full operation.