One bill directs PUC to amend extreme net metering rule, the other boosts large solar for businesses, communities
Statement of Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine
“Today, the Maine Legislature’s Energy and Utilities Committee passed two bills: one directs PUC to amend extreme net metering rule, the other boosts large solar for businesses and communities. Together these bills would protect and benefit consumers and the state as a whole, by capturing the benefits of solar to lower electricity bills, and fostering growth in the solar industry instead of penalizing it.
“The Energy Committee voted 8-5 in bipartisan support of a solar bill (LD 1504) that directs the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to revise the extreme net metering rules it adopted this spring. Republican co-chair, Senator David Woodsome joined the majority, however at the last minute, in an apparent response to pressure from Governor LePage, other Republicans on the committee abandoned support for the amendment that they authored.
“Maine is at a solar crossroads. If the Legislature fails to act, the PUC’s extreme new net metering rule will go into effect, costing ratepayers millions and moving Maine further backwards away from a solar future. The Legislature has one chance to stop this fatally flawed rule before it is too late, and a bipartisan majority of the committee took a clear step directing the PUC to drop the worst of the rule.
“However, even with net metering in place, Maine remains in last place regionally on solar. That is why it is so important that the committee also advanced an innovative approach to support community solar and commercial solar, including for municipalities and farms.”
“Committee members also voted 8-5 in bipartisan support of a second solar bill (LD 1444) that would advance larger scale solar for businesses, municipalities and groups. This bill could help move Maine out of last place regionally for solar power and solar jobs. It directs the PUC to use a competitive process to establish at least 18 large-scale community solar farms (each potentially large enough to serve 1,000 households) over the next three years. It also kicks off a solar pilot program for small businesses, and one to help businesses or municipalities install 20-25 large solar farms to reduce their power bills.
“If passed, the common sense net metering bill will stop the PUC from implementing its widely-discredited scheme to charge a fee for homes and businesses to use solar power they produce, the so-called ‘behind-the-meter tax,’ which would have added more than $2 million to electric bills across Maine. The bill also requires the PUC to drop the arbitrary 10 participant limit that currently exists for community solar farms using net metering, and increase it to 200 instead. This would open up access to solar for more Mainers, including those who rent, live in wooded or urban areas, or do not have a roof or field nearby that is suitable for solar.
“Both bills were sponsored by Republicans, indicating the growing bipartisan appreciation of solar’s benefits for Mainers and our economy. However, given Governor LePage’s consistent opposition to solar power, both seem likely to face vetoes and will require further support to become law.
“House Republicans on the committee walked away from an amendment on net metering that they had drafted, in apparent response to pressure from the Governor’s office. It remains to be seen whether House Republicans will return to the table to help stop the pending PUC rule, and indeed whether they are willing to support solar legislation in the face of a governor’s opposition.”
Background on the new PUC net metering rule:
- Takes effect at the end of 2017 unless the Legislature acts to supersede the rule.
- Phases out net metering for new customers starting in 2018. Beginning then, solar customers would no longer receive a 1-to-1 credit for electricity they put on the grid vs. what they purchase from the grid, which has been the basis of net metering for decades. This phase-out short-changes those who purchase solar arrays and requires complicated new billing arrangements by utilities.
- Requires the installation of a second, dedicated meter that will allow utilities to measure the total amount of electricity a solar system generates. The cost of this second meter will be borne by all ratepayers. (The rule also fails to take any advantage of smart meters, now on nearly every Maine home and business.)
- Uses the new meters for utilities to charge solar customers a “delivery” fee for solar electricity generated on-site, even for electricity that never leaves their home or business.
- Fails to remove the PUC’s arbitrary nine-person limit on shared, community solar farms. The PUC had proposed lifting the limit, but then retained it, saying it was a matter for the Legislature.