by Mal Leary
MPBN news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine could increase the use of solar power for electricity, heating and cooling homes under measures before the state Legislature this year. Among the proposals under consideration, allowing more cooperation between individuals to generate solar energy, and providing rebates to lower costs and improve affordability.
Advocates for solar energy in Maine say that the costs of photo-voltaic panels are going down, and efficiency of the systems is improving. And while at times it seems as though the sun disappears for long periods of time in this part of the U.S., Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says solar power can pay off.
“A solar panel that is installed in Portland Maine is going to generate as much power on an annual basis as that identical panel installed in Houston Texas,” he says.
And that’s one reason why Rep. Sarah Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport and assistant House majority leader, wants to make it easier for larger groups of people to work together to generate solar energy, to use or sell to the power grid. Right now the maximum cooperative effort is six people generating up to 660 kilowatts of electricity. Gideon’s bill would up that to 25 people with a project of 1 megawatt of generating capacity.
“We could be generating a great deal more solar energy for the state than we do right now,” she says. “We are generating about 10 megawatts and we would seek to go up to about 172 megawatts through what this bill would accomplish.”
Sen. Tom Saviello, a Republican from Wilton, is taking a similar approach but focusing it on farmers and rural Maine with the added component of a rebate program to help pay for the upfront costs on buying and installing photo-voltaic arrays.
“It would give incentives for solar panels on the top of a barn, think of the surface area that’s on a barn, or a rural business that may have area on their roofs that they can put this in, will give them the ability to put them in, give them some help putting them in and at the end of the day, if they have excess electricity, would give them the ability to put it back on the grid,” he says.
The rebates would come from the Efficiency Maine program, which is funded by a variety of sources including an assessment on electricity and natural gas bills. Rep. Matt Pouilot, an Augusta Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would rewrite the Efficiency Maine law to extend rebates for the installation of solar powered heat pumps, allowing consumers to heat and cool their homes for a fixed cost over the 25-year life expectancy of the system.
“Putting solar panels on a house that are photo-voltaic to run a heat pump that is in that house, effectively generating your own energy to heat in the winter time and heat pumps, remember, also provide air conditioning in the summer time too,” he says.
Pouilot says his bill would also expand the rebate program to help pay for larger solar panel systems, which could provide all of a homeowner’s electrical needs as well as the heat pump system. Voorhees supports the measure.
“It’s a very elegant way for people to harness the basically limitless renewable resource that is the Sun to provide their power and tackle their heating bills at the same time,” he says.
Mike Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, says the agency would easily be able to include any new policy changes into its future planning. Public hearings on the various solar measures will be held later this year.