More than 2,000 Maine residents join request
AUGUSTA, MAINE—Deeply troubled by the solar rule adopted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last month, large and small businesses, solar companies, workers, conservation and public health groups, and Mainers who want to install solar businesses filed a formal “petition for reconsideration” today. They were joined by a broad coalition of Maine businesses, public interest organizations, and citizens. The petition was endorsed by more than 2,150 individuals from across Maine. The petitioners argued that the weakening of net metering is not in the public interest, would likely raise electricity costs, and did not stem from an adequate or fair analysis of net metering or the proposed changes to it.
At issue is the PUC proposal to phase out net metering and to add a new provision: for the first time utilities would charge Maine homes and businesses a fee for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site. This is akin to utilities charging people who use less electricity an extra fee because they dry their clothes on a clothes line. In addition, although last fall the PUC itself proposed that the 10-person limit on community solar farms be eliminated, the final rule retained this arbitrary limit.
The petition urges the PUC to rescind its recent amendments to net metering rules, conduct a thorough analysis of the costs and benefits of net metering, and re-do rules that encourage solar power in a way that is fair and helps lower costs for all. Failing that, the groups called on the Legislature to take swift action this session to overturn the rules and pass a solar policy.
If the PUC rules take effect as scheduled, at the end of 2017, the rule would strike a blow to the already struggling solar industry here in Maine, and there would be ripple effects throughout the state’s economy.
“The Maine solar industry is growing and providing local jobs here in Maine that cannot be outsourced,” said Holly Noyes of ReVision Energy. “The PUC’s ruling is taking the industry and the state in the wrong direction.”
The solar industry can help Maine attract and retain younger workers: Noyes, a resident of Palermo, was able to move back to Maine, and be near her family and their farm in Albion, thanks to her job at ReVision Energy. Maine is in last place in New England for solar jobs per capita because of the political and regulatory weakness and uncertainty that has plagued Maine for the last several years. Elsewhere in the country, solar jobs are expanding at a rate of more than 20 percent per year.
“We should be increasing good-paying solar jobs that retain our young people and stabilizing energy prices for all Mainers. Instead we continue to struggle with policies that ignore the needs of our state and fail to utilize the common sense that has been a Maine hallmark,” said Vaughan Woodruff, Owner of Insource Renewables in Pittsfield. “The new PUC rule straps Maine ratepayers with unnecessary costs and creates further barriers for Mainers looking to invest in solar.
“The PUC ruling vastly diminishes the possibility of businesses like ours making use of our land to harness a source of sustainable energy,” said Andy Smith, a dairy farmer from The Milkhouse in Monmouth. “This ruling leaves Maine people and businesses behind, putting us at competitive disadvantage with other more progressive states that are embracing the future of energy.”
“The Commission’s new rule is in direct conflict with the Legislature’s clearly stated goals and policies that encourage the development of more solar in the state,” said Emily Green, Staff Attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. “Reducing customers’ returns on solar investment mean fewer installations, less energy independence, loss of jobs, economic decline, and a dramatic increase in toxic emissions into our atmosphere.”
The petitioners argue the PUC ignored evidence of the benefits solar power delivers to all ratepayers, as well as the critical role net metering plays as a catalyst to solar expansion. The Commission also paid virtually no attention to the benefits that solar power has for Maine’s environment and public health because it reduces air emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants.
“The Maine Public Health Association strongly supports efforts to expand clean, healthy, and renewable power in Maine,” said Ed Miller, a board member with the Maine Public Health Association. “Good energy policy is good health policy.”
Furthermore, the PUC rule hinder Maine’s efforts to tackling the true culprit of electricity price hikes: the transmission and distribution of electricity.
“Costly grid investments, including new transmission lines, are the real elephant in the room when it comes to electricity rates,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The PUC’s own research showed that more solar power would lower electric rates by reducing the need for costly grid infrastructure and the need to run the most expensive power on peak days. As a result, the PUC’s rule to slow down the growth of solar will make us more dependent on these high-cost choices.”
The PUC decision is at odds with public opinion in Maine as well. Thousands of Maine people and organizations submitted comments and signed petitions last fall, pleading with the PUC to preserve or improve net metering. Recent polls indicate that a decisive majority of Mainers want to see the Legislature take action to support solar and oppose net metering rollbacks. This is true regardless of party affiliation, income, or geography.
The PUC net metering 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 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 to enable utilities to charge solar customers a “delivery” fee even for electricity that never leaves their home or business.
- Fails to remove the current limit of 10 people in community solar farms, which is an arbitrary limit that the PUC had proposed lifting but then failed to change in its final rule.
- American Lung Association of the Northeast
- City of Belfast Energy Committee
- Coastal Enterprises, Inc.
- Crystal Spring Farm Community Solar Association
- Goggin Energy
- Heliotropic Technologies
- Industrial Energy Consumers Group
- Maine Audubon
- Maine Conservation Voters
- Maine Public Health Association
- Maine Small Business Coalition
- Maine Solar Solutions, LLC
- The Milkhouse
- PeaceWorks of Greater Brunswick
- Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine Chapter
- Polaris Associates
- Portland Climate Action Team
- Renewable Energy Development Associates
- Sierra Club, Maine Chapter
- St. Joseph’s College
- Sundog Solar
- SunRaise Investments
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- 350 Maine