A solar power revolution is underway around the world—last year in the U.S., the #1 source of new power was solar, exceeding new wind and natural gas capacity. However, Maine needs to play catch up. Maine has an excellent solar resource, but we are missing out on the jobs and clean energy it could bring because we don’t tap the sun as much as we should. Solar in Maine lags far behind other states in our region. In fact, Vermont and Massachusetts each have 10 times more installed solar per capita than Maine does! Right now, Maine doesn’t have good policies in place to promote access to solar energy, create more good-paying solar jobs, and reduce pollution that threatens our air, waters, and climate. Last year, a strong bipartisan majority in the Maine House and a unanimous Maine Senate voted to pass a comprehensive solar bill that would have created more than 600 jobs and increased solar statewide for homeowners, businesses, farms, and communities. Governor LePage vetoed the bill, and the House fell just a couple of votes short of overriding his veto.
Since then, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has taken drastic action by adopting an extreme rule that would gut net metering, which is the only policy sustaining Maine’s meager solar industry and making it possible for thousands of Maine homeowners and businesses to own and produce their own power. The PUC rule contains some of the most anti-solar provisions in the country, including a requirement that solar customers pay utilities for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site. Property owners would be forced to buy an additional meter and pay utilities for every kilowatt of solar electricity generated, even those that never enter the power grid, and even during blackouts, when the grid goes down. The PUC’s rule will slow growth of solar in Maine by making it less economical to install, moving it even further behind surrounding states. The PUC ignored the overwhelming number of comments filed by members of the public and diverse stakeholders in opposition to the draft proposal. Now that the PUC has completed its flawed process, the Legislature must step in and craft a sensible policy that will nullify and supersede the PUC’s rule before they take effect at the end of 2017.
Several legislators have introduced solar bills. We strongly support legislation developed by Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) that would restore net metering; eliminate barriers for community solar projects; reestablish a solar rebate program that could benefit 300 small businesses and 3,000 homeowners over the next six years, and create hundreds of new solar jobs, lower energy costs, and provide clean, local energy for Maine people.