Central Maine Power is using distorted figures to scare the public into opposing L.D. 1504.
by Senator Tom Saviello, fourth-term Republican state senator from Wilton and chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee
Portland Press Herald op-ed
AUGUSTA — In the last few months you have heard all about my solar bill, L.D. 1504, “An Act Regarding Solar Power for Farms and Businesses.” Pretty intriguing title! Who could be against farms and businesses? However, just like any other bill introduced into the legislative process, a metamorphosis took place and the bill was amended based on public and professional input.
Before we talk about the amendments, it’s important to define net metering. I will use my house as an example, since I have solar panels.
During the daytime, when the sun is shining, my panels produce electricity. This electricity is then delivered to my house. When I generate more than I am using, the excess is sent to the grid. When I am generating less electricity than my house demands, I pull electricity from the grid. At the end of the month, the excess energy that I delivered to the grid is credited against the electricity I used from the grid. If I put more electricity into the grid than I used, Central Maine Power provides a credit. If not, I pay the difference.
CMP, which is against L.D. 1504, claims that every kilowatt-hour that I generate passes costs on to other ratepayers – even if I use it at my house and it never enters the grid. Under this argument, I also pass on costs to other ratepayers when I trimmed my electrical demand by selling my hot tub.
So what does L.D. 1504 do?
• Prevents CMP and Emera from billing a solar customer for electricity that is self-generated by the customer, consumed directly on site and never flows over a utility wire.
• Requires the Public Utilities Commission to initiate a process to devise a better system than net metering to eventually phase out net metering.
• Gives those citizens who want to create a solar project greater flexibility.
Yep, that’s it!
Recently, the Press Herald published an op-ed by CMP President Sara Burns, who claimed my bill would cost ratepayers $150 million over the next 18 years. I respectfully disagree. This figure is a gross distortion and doesn’t apply to this legislation. CMP is using inflated numbers and misapplying them to scare the public into asking their legislators to kill this bill.
Of course, what CMP does not tell you is that ISO-New England, our independent regional grid operator, estimates that solar already reduces our annual peak demand by hundreds of megawatts, saving all ratepayers millions of dollars. ISO-New England also suggests that if enough solar panels are installed, additional power plants and perhaps additional transmission lines will not be needed. This could save ratepayers millions. Unfortunately, CMP does not make any money if there is no need for additional power lines.
A recent Press Herald news article implied that Burns, the CMP president, initially could not explain how she arrived at the $150 million figure, or what impact it would have on monthly power bills. Later, she clarified that her estimate was based on a worst-case scenario. (Interestingly, CMP’s sister company in Vermont is actually is an advocate of rooftop solar!) The Maine Office of the Public Advocate testified that L.D. 1504 will actually provide small savings to customers.
While I disagree with CMP’s tactics and overstated estimates about solar increasing costs for others, I am sensitive to the concerns of opponents regarding the small costs related to transmission and distribution. So at the end of the session July 20, I responded to CMP’s request to see if we could find common ground on L.D. 1504. That night, I tabled the veto override vote until Aug. 2, when we come back into session.
Last week, CMP reneged on this request. Only after Senate President Mike Thibodeau and I intervened did they agree to meet. On Monday, we met and listened to CMP’s concerns. We left the meeting thinking we had an agreement since some of the items below were actually CMP recommendations in previous public hearings.
The solar industry and I offered the following changes:
• Require the PUC to initiate a process to devise a better system than net metering in order to eventually phase out net metering, which we all want.
• Change community solar to allow CMP to capture all renewable energy credits related to the project, which CMP has supported in the past.
• Eliminate net metering over the next 10 years by increments of 10 percent each year, which CMP has requested.
• Eliminate the statutory “right to net meter,” something CMP wants.
Sadly, CMP has turned down this solution. CMP opposes both the original and the amended version of L.D. 1504, either of which would keep the path to solar moving forward and would have benefited CMP, too. A win-win opportunity lost.
So after sorting through the effort, I have reached a conclusion: When L.D. 1504 passes, the real winners will be the citizens of Maine, not a corporate monopoly looking to protect their bottom line.