Historic legislation calls for major ramp-up of solar installations and new job creation with benefits for all customers
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AUGUSTA – A group of solar businesses, workers, municipalities, community leaders, utilities, and other stakeholders on Thursday announced their support for historic new solar legislation that will dramatically increase installation of solar throughout Maine. The bill comes as a result of a six-month stakeholder process called for by the Legislature last year and represents a breakthrough agreement with diverse parties to chart a path forward for solar.
The bill creates opportunity for customers of all sizes to choose clean energy by calling for installing 250 megawatts (MW) of new solar by 2022. The targets will drive investments in rooftop solar on homes and businesses, much greater use of community solar, as well as opening up the market for large-scale and grid-scale solar. Maine currently has about 18 MW of solar installed.
More than a dozen solar installers from across Maine announced their support for the bill as a way to move Maine out of last place in the region for solar installations and jobs. Maine’s lack of comprehensive solar policy and uncertainty over solar have severely limited growth in the state’s solar market in comparison to what is happening elsewhere in response to falling solar prices.
The bill was hailed as an opportunity for Maine to move forward with this clean, distributed, local energy resource, as a result of organizations of different perspectives coming together to work out solutions.
Taken together, over the next five years the policies in the bill would:
• Yield a ten-fold increase in the amount of solar in Maine, combining significant growth in rooftop solar with new growth in larger-scale solar;
• Triple Maine’s solar workforce by adding 800 new solar jobs;
• Give greater certainty to customers, businesses, and utilities; and
• Begin capturing the value of solar in ways that benefit all ratepayers.
“ReVision’s top priority is to ensure that residential and small business customers in Maine continue to have a fair opportunity to invest in solar and take control of their own energy future,” said Fortunat Mueller, partner and co-founder of Revision Energy. “We think this legislation does that. We also know that distributed solar in Maine provides substantial benefits, not just to solar customers, but to all ratepayers. And because new solar policy helps Revision and other companies create hundreds of quality jobs, moving ahead is really good news for our state.”
“Having grown up in Skowhegan, I wasn’t sure what job opportunities would await me when I graduated from a Maine college,” said Ben Holt, a solar installer with Insource Renewables. “I now have a fantastic solar job out of Pittsfield and if this legislation passes, it will provide me with job security and create more opportunities for young technical workers who might otherwise leave the state.”
“Citizens in towns across Maine are enthusiastic about participating in shared, community solar projects,” said Janet Redfield of Lincolnville. “That enthusiasm was obvious to me when, within a day’s time, a dozen people expressed their interest in community solar via Lincolnville’s community bulletin board. Until now, community solar in Maine has been severely hampered by our outdated solar laws that limit such systems to 10 participants. I am especially pleased that this bill will get rid of those barriers and provide the opportunity for more people to form a solar-powered community.”
The bill offers a dramatic change in policy for community solar farms. Currently community solar farms are limited to 10 participants, which creates nearly impossible economics in most cases. The bill eliminates this hurdle and allows for a wide variety of community solar of all types and sizes – including community projects that could provide power to hundreds of Maine households, as well as businesses.
The comprehensive solar bill uses a variety of approaches to achieve the new solar targets in the different markets: residential/small business, community solar, large commercial/institutional, and grid-scale. Common to all approaches is a requirement that a standard solar buyer purchases the output of solar installations and pass the benefits on to all customers. The approaches in the bill also provide solar investors –from homeowners to businesses to developers – much greater predictability with which to finance and install solar.
“Rockland, like many communities, views this solar policy as a tremendous opportunity to lower municipal energy costs and therefore benefit property taxpayers,” said Rockland City Councilor Larry Pritchett. “Cities and towns are seeking expanded options to install solar to offset some or most of the electricity used by local government and to provide cost-effective solar-generated electricity for businesses, schools, and manufacturing facilities. Municipalities are pleased that this policy will eliminate Maine’s arbitrary nine-meter and 660-kilowatt size limits on solar installations and provide a framework for community solar. As a package this proposal will enable cities and towns to foster solar in ways that will benefit businesses, residents, and local government.”
“In Maine, we come together to find innovative solutions to our challenges,” said Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the sponsor of the legislation that created the stakeholder process to drive solar growth. “Our challenge here has been growing solar in a way that gives people energy independence, creates jobs, and mitigates climate change. Now, we’ve created a way to do that and to do it in a way that remains sustainable into the future and will drive significant solar growth.”
“It’s time that we update Maine’s approach to solar and other distributed generation resources,” said Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram, the ranking Republican on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “This bill positions Maine consumers to reap the full benefits of changes in technology and what’s taking place in the energy industry. We’re looking at savings of close to $100 million for ratepayers and job creation for our own Maine-based business.”
“Over the past six months, this group of stakeholders came together, bringing diverse perspectives to the common goal of developing a modern solar policy for Maine,” said Public Advocate Tim Schneider. “Their hard work developed a solution that maximizes the value of distributed generation and will save ratepayers money.”
The bill allows existing solar customers to continue “net-metering,” or gives them the option to switch into new 20-year contracts that pay for their excess solar. For new rooftop solar customers, the bill would put in place a program that, on the customer’s front end, feels very similar to net-metering but on the back end, moves beyond it in subtle ways that are more sustainable for Maine’s energy future. Like net-metering, customers will earn bill credits for their excess solar, which can be used to offset their electricity bills. One difference is that solar homeowners will receive bill credits tied to a rate in a 20-year guaranteed contract, adding a certainty that is lacking now. Additionally, it maximizes the value for all consumers of distributed generation technology over time.
“With Maine lagging so far behind on solar, we needed to create an effective way to turn things around,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “NRCM is proud that we could join with diverse stakeholders to develop and support this bill together. What matters most in the end are the results: we support this bill because it paves the way for a bright solar future for Maine.”
“The Office of the Public Advocate’s proposed bill moves the debate into the next generation of clean energy production,” said John Carroll, spokesperson for Central Maine Power. “This is a forward-looking proposal that sets goals to increase Maine’s solar energy capacity and to maximize new energy technologies to benefit consumers more equally.”
“This proposal creates an opportunity for our customers to benefit from solar energy and help our environment,” said Alan Richardson, President and COO of Emera Maine. “The proposal is the result of meaningful collaboration amongst stakeholders with different perspectives. We believe it represents a fair balance, and we are glad to support it.”