Statement of Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Project Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine
“We thank and congratulate the Maine House for giving its overwhelming support to a common sense solar bill that protects consumers, creates jobs, and expands opportunities for community solar. With its vote of 106-38, the Maine House of Representatives showed strong bipartisan support for solar legislation. This comes on top of last week’s vote in the Senate, which supported the solar bill 28-5 with 2 supportive senators absent (forecasting a full, final vote of 30-5). The broad and bipartisan support began with Republicans leaders like Senators Woodsome and Saviello and Representative Harvell who all sponsored and helped craft this legislation.
“This bill now does two things, which together give Maine solar companies a modest level of predictability for the short term while benefiting all ratepayers by avoiding significant costs associated with ‘gross metering.’”
- LD 1444 will increase access to community solar in Maine by lifting the current, arbitrary, 9-participant cap to allowing up to 50 participants in a community solar project.
- LD 1444 will also keep utilities like Central Maine Power (CMP) from charging a new fee on solar power that Mainers make and use in their own homes—electricity that never even touches the electrical grid that CMP builds and maintains
“The bottom line is failure to adopt this bill would force Maine people and businesses who install solar to pay monopoly utilities new fees on the power they generate and consume onsite. The cost of this complex, unprecedented new scheme will be borne by all ratepayers, unless the House and Senate work together to override the governor’s inevitable veto. We must prevent Maine’s anti-solar regulatory environment from getting worse. Municipalities across the state are eager to build larger, cost-effective solar farms that lower energy bills, but many are stymied by an outdated, arbitrary 10-meter limit.”
In its current form, LD 1444 is the most modest, slimmed down piece of “solar” legislation considered by the Maine Legislature in the last several years (the word “solar” does not appear in the bill; it applies to all forms of self-generation). It does only two things: lifts an arbitrary 9-participant limit on shared-interest projects such as community solar farms, and prohibits so-called “gross metering” under which utilities effectively charge customers for power they produce and consume behind the meter. The complexity and cost of gross metering is what led the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to delay the start date from January 1, 2018 to May 1, 2018. The bill does not prevent the Commission from continuing its planned reductions in the value of bill credits that net metering customers receive for providing excess power onto the grid, something sought by utilities. The 9 participant limit on community solar farms dates from when utilities needed to hand-bill for all net-metering customers, which is no longer true.
The amended LD 1444, is substantially changed from its original form (some recent reporting did not realize that, so we are clarifying here).
The amended LD 1444 was supported in the Senate 28-5 (with 2 supportive senators absent). The bill has only two key elements, which give Maine solar companies some modest level of predictability for the short term while at the same time benefiting all ratepayers by avoiding significant costs associated with “gross metering.”
- LD 1444 will increase access to community solar in Maine by lifting the current, arbitrary, 9-participant cap to allow up to 50 participants in a community solar project. Community solar lets more people, towns, and businesses benefit from solar— those who live in town, rent, don’t have great roofs, or adjacent land for siting, etc. The increase especially helps towns with available land (such as capped landfills) suitable for larger community solar farms. Both CMP and Emera now have updated billing systems that can handle more community solar accounts.
In 2016, CMP proposed a limit of 200 meters in comments they filed with the PUC (below), but now CMP is opposing this bill. Last year a similar bill, LD 1504, set a 200-participant limit; in response to lobbying from CMP, the House dropped that to 100. Then CMP said they might support that bill if it was 50. Apparently, there is no winning with them on this issue. Here’s what CMP wrote to the PUC:
“One major change proposed by the Commission is the elimination of the current cap of 10 accounts or meters for each net energy billing arrangement. The proposed amended rule… establishes a cap of 1,000 customers that can be netted against a particular facility, based on the proposed eligible facility maximum capacity of one megawatt. For both policy and implementation reasons, CMP opposes such a broad expansion of the current cap on the number of customers that are allowed to participate in a NEB arrangement. …To make net energy billing manageable for T&D utilities, the Commission should establish a more reasonable cap on the number of accounts that can be netted against a single facility. CMP would propose a more realistic cap of 200 customers per facility.” (CMP comments, October 14, 2016, Docket 2016-00222.)
- LD 1444 will also keep utilities like CMP from charging a new fee on solar power that Mainers make and use in their own homes or businesses! This “Gross metering,” concept, born at the PUC, is scheduled to begin March 16. Gross metering is essentially a TAX on power Maine homes and businesses generate and then use directly on site. There is almost universal opposition to the concept of gross metering amongst stakeholders, including large industrial consumers of energy. CMP itself testified the company had concerns about gross metering. If the Legislature does not act, this behind-the-meter tax is going to start and all ratepayers will have to start paying for extra meters associated with gross metering which will cost thousands of dollars per solar installation. Passing the bill is an opportunity to avoid that unnecessary stranded cost and avert a bad outcome for ratepayers and solar supporters alike, in addition to protecting Mainers’ right to consume the power they generate.