State goes more green with new laws

In a fitting complement to receiving $19.2 million in stimulus money from the EPA recently, for environmental projects throughout Sussex County and the rest of Delaware, several pieces of legislation were signed into law after the most recent General Assembly session, in an effort to help “green” the state.

On July 9, Gov. Jack Markell signed into law Senate Bill 85 (SB 85), which removed the “anniversary date provision” and allows owners of renewable energy systems who generate excess electricity to request payment for that electricity from their electrical suppliers at the end of their billing cycles.

An amendment brought forth by state Sen. Robert I. Marshall (D-3rd) would have called for language stating the customers “shall receive” payment from the electrical suppliers. Instead, the original wording of “may request” was retained. The bill states that customers would retain ownership of all Renewable Energy Credits generated by their systems and also creates a new provision for farm customers to net meter the output of solar electric systems.

The primary sponsor of SB 85 was Sen. Harris B. McDowell III (D-1st), with Sen. F. Gary Simpson (R-18th) and Reps. John A. Kowalko (D-25th) and Pam Thornburg (R-29th) also sponsoring it. Co-sponsors included Sens. Brian J. Bushweller (D-17th), Bethany A. Hall-Long (D-10th) and Michael S. Katz (D-4th) and Reps. Michael P. Mulrooney (D-17th), Michael A. Barbieri (D-18th), Gerald L. Brady (D-4th), Gerald Hocker (R-38th), Thomas H. Kovach (R-6th), Bryon H. Short (D-7th) and Darryl M. Scott (D-31st).

Markell this week hailed the change in state law as a success of his legislative agenda.

“My administration’s energy agenda is moving us towards achieving the promise of a green economy — green jobs and careers, opportunities for companies, and savings for residents and businesses — by seizing the opportunities presented by our nation’s commitment to energy independence and the growing concern over climate change,” the governor said.

Bridget Shelton, spokesperson for Delmarva Power, said the company welcomed the change and supported it.

“Originally, the law was the money would go to the customers, and then it changed to go to the Green Energy Fund, and now it is a reversal of that — it’s a good change,” she said.

Previously, Delmarva Power customers who generated more power than they used throughout the year would get month-to month bill credits – in essence, lower bills – and, at the end of the year, any excess for the year would be translated into dollars and cents and sent to the Delaware Green Energy Fund. Now, the customers will get any monetary credit due to them at the end of the year.

“In all likelihood, we’ll reach out to those customers and see how they would like their excess credits, whether it will be in a check or in bill credits,” Shelton said.

Other “green” bills Markell has signed from this past legislative session include Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 70.

SB 49, sponsored by Sen. David McBride (D-13th), prohibits deed restrictions that would prevent homeowners from putting photovoltaic panels – solar energy systems – on their homes.

“With the increasing price of energy and our ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of fossil fuels, we have to keep pushing the use of alternative energy,” said Mulrooney, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and was the lead House sponsor of SB 49. “As technology continues to improve, solar power is becoming a real alternative for homeowners. This bill will ensure that future homes can add solar panels without infringing on existing deed restrictions.”

House Bill 70 similarly forbids deed restrictions that prevent homeowners from installing wind turbines on their property. It specifically states that any local or county government or home owners’ association covenant or restriction on such systems is “void and unenforceable” for parcels of at least one acre. Roof-mounted wind systems have no minimum parcel size to fall under the new law.

“The more we can do to encourage passive methods of energy generation, the better off our state and our nation will be economically and environmentally,” said Rep. William Oberle (R-24th), who introduced HB 70.

The collective set of new “green” laws was greeted as an economic boost for the state, as well as a positive step for its environment.

“These new laws, along with a few additional pieces of legislation that I will sign in the near future, will result in new jobs, money saved and a cleaner environment,” stated Markell. “Thanks to the steps we have taken over the past six months, we will be able to look back at this as the time when we laid the foundation for decades of economic growth and a cleaner planet for future generations.”

A bill not yet signed by the governor as of mid-week but passed in the House and the Senate is House Bill 201, repealing Delaware’s “bottle bill.”

Rep. John J. Viola, who sponsored House Bill 201, said that, in an age of single-stream curbside recycling, the 25-year-old bottle bill had outlived its usefulness.

“I spoke to distributors, stores, residents and others, and found that the deposit was not effective at improving recycling. None of the three surrounding states have a bottle bill, and their recycling rate is higher than ours,” said Viola (D-26th). “Single-stream curbside recycling is the future for recycling, not a nickel deposit. People like me, who do curbside recycling, don’t even bother bringing the bottles back to the store. We just place them in the container, so we lose money.”

Alan Mueller of Green Delaware has a different take on the issue and is asking that people urge Markell to veto the bill, saying, “Most people would probably agree that the bill hasn’t been working well enough, except maybe for those pocketing the deposits. We’ve heard many complaints of retailers being reluctant to take back containers. The 5 cent deposit has obviously eroded in value since 1982 and needs to be increased. A wider range of sizes and contents needs to be covered, especially 1-liter bottles and aluminum cans.”

“Still,” Mueller emphasized, “a container deposit program is an important part of a serious ‘zero waste’ program. Delaware’s program needs to be improved, not abolished.”

For more information on the 145th General Assembly and how legislators voted on any particular issue, visit