Comprehensive new bill to expand solar power
By Emmie Theberge and Dylan Voorhees, NRCM Clean Energy staff
We’re happy to report that after laying the groundwork for years, and after months of intense work by many stakeholders, we’ve helped develop a strong comprehensive solar bill with broad support! The bill (LD 1649) would give Maine a huge boost. It will lead to a big ramp-up of solar across all sectors, from rooftops to large-scale solar: ten times more solar over the next five years! This bipartisan bill has support from Maine solar companies, the environmental community, workers, towns, community leaders, and many others. This is big news!
Why we need a new solar policy now
Solar power is undergoing an astonishing revolution around the country as prices keep dropping and the amount of solar being built keeps increasing. But Maine is the only state in New England without a comprehensive solar policy. As a result, we lag far behind on the amount of solar being installed and the number of solar jobs being created.
Over the past two years, the Maine Legislature has moved at a snail’s pace on solar, calling for studies and stakeholder meetings. The studies are done, the meetings have been completed. Now it’s time for Maine lawmakers to pass a strong solar bill. Contact your legislators today to help us get the 2/3 vote we will probably need to pass the bill!
Key benefits of the solar proposal:
#1 Ensures a massive increase in solar power and solar jobs in Maine. The new solar program will increase the amount of solar power installed in Maine ten-fold over five years: adding 250 Megawatts (MW) by 2022, compared to about 18 MW currently. This will create more than 800 new solar jobs, reduce energy costs for everyone in Maine, and help protect our climate. The 250 MW includes targets for all kinds of solar, and includes big increases in rooftop solar, plus new growth in larger-scale solar. By removing barriers, it will finally make larger solar farms workable in Maine.
#2 Provides a huge boost for community solar farms. The bill tears down current barriers that inhibit community solar projects in Maine, including a provision in existing law that arbitrarily prohibits more than nine people from participating in a community solar farm. With passage of the bill, hundreds of people could participate in a single community solar project!
#3 Introduces an upgrade to net-metering. The bill introduces an upgraded approach to Maine’s current net-metering policy for an 18-month trial period. The new program is designed to be at least as attractive and effective as net-metering, and indeed is very similar from a customer’s perspective. A solar homeowner or small business will still earn credits on their power bill for the extra solar power not used immediately on site. They can use those credits over the year to pay for the power they need to purchase from the grid at other times (like at night, when their solar panels don’t produce power).
Two differences between the new program and what we have now: 1) bill credits would be based on a set rate, guaranteed for 20 years; 2) solar customers could use bill credits to offset 100% of their bill. (Current net-metering customers have to pay their fixed charges out-of-pocket, and this has been a barrier for Maine businesses who want to invest in solar.) Maybe we should call it “NeXt-Metering”?
#4 Mixes innovation, flexibility, and safeguards. Maine needs to do something creative and different to get out of last place in solar development. The revision to net-metering proposed in this bill is innovative. The approach has automatic adjustments to ensure we reach the required amounts of solar. The bill also ensures that Maine can try the new alternative for a couple years, evaluate whether it is succeeding, make fixes if necessary, and revert to the current net-metering system if it is deemed preferable. This is a strong, well-developed solar policy, which Maine has lacked for years. NRCM and others will continue to push for a final bill that includes adequate safeguards to protect solar jobs and ensure strong new solar energy rates.
#5 Keeps net-metering for existing solar customers. Those who already have solar panels and have been net-metering with their utility will have the option to continue to use net-metering or to switch over to the new program. Unfortunately, current net-metering customers now live under the threat that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) could weaken or eliminate net-metering at any time. The new bill gives these customers additional certainty that they can keep net-metering at least through 2029. It also gives them the option to switch over to a 20-year guaranteed rate of payment for their solar.
#6 Lowers electricity costs for everyone in Maine. Solar power offers tremendous benefits for everyone, according to a study by the Maine PUC. The new solar program creates an improved way to capture, account for, and monetize these many benefits of solar power, and provide cheaper power for everyone.
#7 Offers a win-win solution in the Maine tradition. Here in Maine we pride ourselves on finding innovative and common-sense solutions to the challenges we face – solutions that work for everyone. It moves beyond the conflict and division that other states are experiencing and would help re-establish Maine as a leader in clean energy. Using independent minds and good old-fashioned conversation, we have crafted a policy proposal that will help Maine to regain lost ground and tap into the many benefits of solar energy for Maine people and our environment.
The Legislature’s Energy Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill in the coming weeks so we need your help contacting legislators. We will be in touch as soon as we have more information on the public hearing date, so stay tuned.
LD 1649, “An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development”