Black liquor' deal goes sour

Subtitle: MD paper mill backtracks on compromise, fights to retain lucrative renewable energy credits
Source: Baltimore Sun
Author: Tim Wheeler
Article Type:
Date Published: 03/14/2013

A deal environmentalists thought had been worked out to stop mostly out-of-state paper mills from cashing in on Maryland’s renewable energy law by burning so-called “black liquor” has come unglued. The state’s only paper plant in Allegany County has backtracked on a pledge not to oppose the move in return for being allowed to keep collecting from the state’s utility customers for another five years. The New Page mill in Luke and several others out of state have reaped millions of dollarsfrom Maryland ratepayers over the past eight years by taking advantage of an obscure provision in the “renewable portfolio standard” law, passed in 2004 to reduce the state’s reliance on climate-warming fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Under the law, Maryland’s electricity suppliers must increase the amount of power generated from renewable sources to 20 percent by 2022. They can either produce it themselves, or buy “renewable energy credits” from facilities generating power from a variety of specified sources, including wind, solar, geothermal and poultry manure. The state’s electricity buyers pay for those credits through slightly higher rates. But the law also recognizes as renewable fuel wood scraps and a tarry substance known as “black liquor,” a carbon-rich byproduct of the paper pulping process. As a result, the New Page mill and others in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio get subsidies for what is a traditional industry practice of generating power for their plants by burning their waste products.