A Western Maryland paper mill and several others in the region have collected millions of dollars over the past eight years by taking advantage of an obscure provision in a state law that is supposed to encourage the development of wind, solar and other renewable energy projects.
The paper manufacturers routinely burn waste byproducts from their mills to make the energy to run them. But since 2005, they've been getting paid to do so by selling "renewable energy credits" to power companies, which can buy the paper waste credits rather than purchase ones generated by the sun or wind.
Some lawmakers in Annapolis hope to close what they contend is a major loophole in Maryland's efforts to promote the growth of renewable energy production in the state. A bill is being pushed to phase out the lucrative credits given to paper mills for what is known as "black liquor" and other wood waste they generate.
Many lawmakers thought they were helping to launch wind and solar projects when they voted in 2004 to require Maryland power companies to gradually increase their use of renewable energy. But the owner of the mill in Luke in Allegany County successfully lobbied to include waste from paper production among other energy sources eligible for premium "Tier 1" renewable energy credits.