Vote shows bipartisan support for helping Maine catch up on solar
NRCM news release
AUGUSTA, ME – Today, the Maine House (119-28) and Senate (32-3) voted to override Governor LePage’s veto of a Resolve aimed at developing a comprehensive solar policy for Maine. LD 1263, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gideon of Freeport, was amended to become a Resolve with input from solar installers, electric utilities, the Public Advocate, and environmental advocates led by NRCM. The Resolve directs the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to set up an open stakeholder process to try to develop a solar incentive proposal that the Legislature could vote on next year. The goal is to establish a solar approach that will significantly increase solar in Maine in a way that benefits all ratepayers.
“We are pleased that the Legislature voted overwhelmingly, and in a bipartisan way, to override Governor LePage’s veto of the solar Resolve,” said Dylan Voorhees, NRCM Clean Energy Director. “The governor’s opposition to solar is now well established, but it was disappointing to see it extend so far as opposing solar advocates and utilities sitting down to identify a consensus approach to expanding access to solar in a Maine in a fair and effective way.”
“Maine has an enormous opportunity to reap great benefits from solar power, but it is time for the state to catch up in taking advantage of this rapidly evolving technology,” said sponsor Rep. Sara Gideon of Freeport. “Making progress on solar will require diverse parties coming together to support real solutions. The legislature did that in a bipartisan way and now the parties and the PUC have a chance to continue that dialogue.”
Due to lack of a solar policy, Maine is lagging behind states in the region and beyond on solar and missing out on its many benefits, from reduced dependence on fossil fuels to cleaner air and lower electric rates. The solar Resolve creates a new opportunity for agreement between the utilities and solar advocates, using as a starting point an innovative approach proposed by the Public Advocate. It represents an avenue for progress on a comprehensive solar policy next year, before federal solar tax credits set to expire at the end of 2016.
“The Public Advocate’s straw proposal is creative and shows important leadership that could bring parties together,” said Voorhees. “However refining it and agreeing on the details could make the difference between whether the outcome is a step forward or threatens to move us back.”
“The strongest foundation we have seen for local solar policy across the U.S. has been net metering,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables in Pittsfield, ME. “Maine has received strong marks nationally for its net metering policy, but our utilities have been unable come to terms with this fundamental solar mechanism in Maine. With our support of LD 1263, Maine’s solar industry has again demonstrated its willingness to compromise to find a workable solution within the existing legislative climate in Augusta. Though I am cautious about the ultimate outcome, given the consistent opposition to solar from the utilities and the governor’s office, I trust the PUC staff’s ability to provide a thorough analysis of the topic. I hope LD 1263 will provide an opportunity to remove the regulatory restraints that cause Maine residents and businesses to receive much less benefit than their solar energy systems add to the electrical grid.”
“One problem with the status quo is that net-metering is not really treating homeowners and businesses who install solar fairly,” said Fortunat Mueller, co-founder of Revision Energy. “The PUC’s study of the real value of electricity from solar panels concluded that its value is roughly 33 cents per kilowatt hour: more than twice the 13 cent/kilowatt-hour credit that homeowners with solar now receive. That means there is room to do better, both for solar owners and for other ratepayers who want to capture some of that value.”
“Crafting a new and effective solar policy for Maine will take hard work and many months of discussion and negotiation, and NRCM will be there at the table,” said Voorhees. “It bodes well that the Legislature endorsed this process so strongly and didn’t let the governor stop forward progress.”