The arguments against a modernization of the state’s clean energy market do not pass the test.
It’s easy to tear apart a complicated piece of legislation by latching onto a few details and blowing them out of proportion.
But lawmakers who are considering voting to sustain Gov. LePage’s veto of L.D. 1649, the modernization of the state’s market for solar energy, should take a hard look at his arguments. They simply don’t hold up.
The bill sets four-year targets for a 10-fold expansion of solar power in Maine, from small rooftop installations to large commercial ones that would feed power onto the grid. Through long-term contracts at fixed prices, the state would agree to buy a certain amount of electricity generated by various kinds of solar installations.
The major arguments against the bill run from misleading to just plain wrong. No legislator should vote to kill this bill until they have taken this quiz.
• True or False: The solar bill would drive up the cost of electricity.
False. There would be an increase in electric rates in the near term, peaking in the fourth year of the plan, adding an estimated 31 cents a month to the average home electric bill. But by locking solar power producers into long-term contracts, the price for solar would stay constant while other sources of electricity get more expensive. Over 20 years, every customer, whether they have solar power or not, would benefit from downward pressure on rates.
And it is misleading to look at only one side of the transaction. By aggregating all of the power produced on Maine rooftops into a single pool, the state would be able to sell renewable energy credits to companies that pollute, offsetting the impact on Mainers’ rates. Without this bill, the state is leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table that could be used to help Maine consumers.
• True or False: The solar bill steals from the poor to give to the rich.
False. The solar bill was designed to share the benefits of solar power among solar customers and non-solar customers alike. Aside from having a positive long-term effect on everyone’s rates, the solar bill provides ways for people without solar panels to benefit from low-cost power from the sun. Renters and people with small roofs, for instance, would be able to participate in community solar farms, and earn credits that lower their bills. Municipalities would be able to cut energy costs by installing solar arrays that would take pressure off property taxes.
• True or False: The solar bill would kill jobs.
False. In its current form, this bill is projected to generate 650 jobs in sales, installation and maintenance of solar systems and maintain the 300 jobs that currently exist. These are good-paying jobs that are dispersed all over the state, including areas like Somerset County that have been hit hard by job losses in the paper industry.
Large manufacturing facilities and other businesses that have competitors in states with lower electric rates would have an ability that currently does not exist to install solar capacity on their buildings, sell the power they don’t use and cut their electric bills. The real job killer would be voting against this bill.
• True or False: The solar bill was cooked up by environmentalists and people who make money off renewable energy.
False. Yes, environmentalists and representatives of the solar industry were part of the task force that created this compromise, but so were Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, utilities that have been no fans of solar power in the past. Tim Schneider, Maine public advocate, was also on the task force. He is a state official, appointed by Gov. LePage to represent ratepayer interests at the Public Utilities Commission, not to promote renewable energy.
Lawmakers have a choice: They can create a system where Maine can take advantage of new technologies that would provide low-cost, clean power now and in the future, or they can cling to an antiquated system that will become more expensive over time.
That’s a quiz that we cannot afford Maine to fail.