By Phil Coupe, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
To make good decisions on energy investments and policy, Mainers must get true facts about solar, not just the myths being intentionally sown by utilities that want to protect their monopoly on our energy consumption. A recent BDN article did not mention that solar saves money for all ratepayers by reducing peak demand on the grid, by reducing the need for expensive new utility transmission projects (poles and wires), by reducing or eliminating the need for new natural gas pipelines and by reducing the harmful pollution from centralized fossil fuel power plants.
These facts about the strong economic and environmental benefits of solar to all ratepayers are proven by real-world results in Maine and by the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s own value of solar study.
Let me explain the situation: Today, we are all paying about 14 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity supplied by the utility, and people with rooftop solar get a credit (not actual money) of 14 cents per kilowatt hour for excess electricity they export to the grid when their solar array is producing more electricity than is being consumed by the home. This is called “net energy metering,” or “net billing.”
The value of solar study, conducted by an independent and nonpartisan third party at the request of the PUC, shows that solar-generated electricity is worth about 30 cents per kilowatt hour because of its beneficial attributes (peak demand reduction, avoided transmission buildout, avoided natural gas pipelines and avoided pollution). Solar electricity delivers these universal benefits to all ratepayers, regardless of whether someone has solar on their roof. Based on the results of the study, solar homeowners who export clean electricity to the grid are getting under-compensated by more than 50 percent.
Because solar delivers so many benefits to all ratepayers, it’s ludicrous that a so-called “review” of Maine’s net metering policy is underway when solar has barely started as an industry — on the sunniest day of the year solar is contributing just 1 percent to the total peak demand in two utility areas — Central Maine Power and Maine Public Service. When MPS crossed the 1 percent threshold awhile back, the PUC simply ruled that it should push the review to a 2 percent threshold and that was that. The commission should do the same with CMP and let the Legislature work on a new policy to encourage the development of solar in Maine. Until then, we know for certain that net energy billing is benefiting all Maine ratepayers as much, or even more, than it is helping people with solar.
Although we don’t see much solar in our travels around Maine because the penetration rate is low, the great news is that solar represents the strongest job-creation opportunity for Maine since the beginning of the paper industry 200 years ago. ReVision Energy is a microcosm of this job growth opportunity, having grown from two guys in a garage to 140 employees today.
In 2015, solar jobs grew 12 times faster than any other segment of the economy, and today there are three times as many Americans employed in solar than in the entire coal industry.
While Maine is lagging far behind New England and the rest of the country in solar growth, the good news is that we have a tremendous opportunity to get solar policy right with the next Legislature. The key is to make sure we elect leaders who understand that solar provides financial benefits to all Mainers, and that distributed solar energy systems provide both energy independence and far greater security than a centralized system that is highly vulnerable to attacks.
Mainers export $5 billion per year from the local economy to import polluting gas, oil and propane from away — every solar project built is a plug in this massive hole in Maine’s fiscal boat, keeping our energy dollars right here at home creating good jobs for our best and brightest young folks whom we desperately need to keep around.