By Vaughan Woodruff, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
This week, legislators will decide whether to override the governor’s veto of LD 1504, an extremely modest bill that aims to remove a uniformly disliked provision of new solar rules slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
While solar policy discussions in Maine over the past two years have been fraught with complexity, LD 1504 is quite simple.
First, it reverses a provision of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s new solar energy rules requiring the installation of new meters at homes and business that install for all new solar electric systems. These meters will be paid for by all Central Maine Power and Emera Maine ratepayers, and they will be used by the utilities to receive revenue from electricity generated by a solar customer that never enters the grid. Most Mainers, regardless of political affiliation, have significant concerns with allowing the utilities to install electricity meters within a home or business.
It also lifts an arbitrary cap on the number of participants in community solar projects from 10 to 100, and it requires the Public Utilities Commission to facilitate a formal, fact-based proceeding to better inform the Legislature on how to more effectively and equitably integrate technologies like solar and battery storage into our electricity grid.
During debates on the merits of the legislation, there has been little contention over these changes. As a result, LD 1504 received overwhelming bipartisan support before Gov. Paul LePage’s veto.
Opponents have been unable to successfully argue against the specific provisions of the bill, so they have instead waged a misinformation campaign with the intent of convincing legislators that this bill is a mandate on the state’s net energy billing policy. It is not.
In fact, LD 1504 maintains nearly all of the reductions in benefits that were introduced by the Public Utilities Commission, including grandfathering existing customers at the current retail rates for 15 years and annual reductions in the credits solar customers receive for their excess electricity returned to the grid over the next 10 years. It also maintains components of current net metering rules that require solar customers to pay a minimum monthly fee to their utilities and force residential customers to surrender a portion of their net energy credits during months when they generate more electricity than they consume.
This bill does not move Maine’s solar policy forward as much as it keeps it from moving backward. Should LD 1504 pass, Maine still will be setting unfortunate precedents for solar policy, including an arbitrary stepped-down compensation scheme for solar energy credits that has yet to be implemented anywhere else in the country.
Yet, national utility interests, such as the Edison Electric Institute and the Consumer Energy Alliance, have joined Central Maine Power in efforts to convince voters and legislators that the bill is something it is not. In a staggering example of the lengths these utility interests are willing to go, the Consumer Energy Alliance in an online campaign explicitly lies about the content of LD 1504, claiming that the legislation will “give large tax rebates to wealthy households,” though the bill contains no such provision.
These efforts appear to be an attempt to sway state-level policy to create a precedent that can be utilized in other states, many of which are engaged in similar policy discussions about how to adapt utility policy relating to solar.
Caught in this crossfire are legislators who are trying to best serve their constituents and Maine ratepayers, who will be on the hook for up to $1.5 million to pay for new electricity meters should LD 1504 fail. Let’s hope that our elected officials stay steadfast in their support of LD 1504 based on the bill’s merits and override the governor’s veto.
Vaughan Woodruff is the president of Insource Renewables of Pittsfield and the chair of the Committee on Renewable Energy, the trade association representing Maine’s solar industry.