by Andy O’Brien
Free Press news story
Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) announced last week that it will delay until April 30 the implementation of its first-in-the-nation experiment to charge solar power producers for the energy they produce.
The new rules were originally scheduled to take effect on January 1, but PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy recommended moving the deadline ahead four months in order to solve a dispute between utilities and solar installers over a proposal that would require solar producers to install new meters.
“This will provide time for the resolution of the remaining issues,” said Vannoy. “… I expect staff to convene additional working group meetings with the installers and the electric distribution companies to resolve any of the remaining outstanding issues.”
Over the past several months, MPUC staff, solar installers and the utilities Central Maine Power and Emera Maine have been grappling with how to adopt new rules to scale back incentives to produce solar power. Under Maine’s current net-metering rules, homes and businesses are able to sell solar power produced on-site back to the grid at the standard retail price. However, last February, MPUC issued a ruling to gradually reduce that compensation, even if it is generated and consumed on-site and never makes it to the grid. Over the past two years, the Maine Legislature has voted several times to create an alternative to the current net-metering policy, but Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage have blocked those proposals, arguing that MPUC should set the policy.
But according to MPUC filings, stakeholders have not been able to reach agreement on a provision that would require the installation of a new meter on the homes of solar producers to measure the total output of the grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems. CMP has stated in PUC filings that it will cost $300,000 to comply with the rule and suggested that solar customers pay for it — a suggestion that has been met by strong opposition from solar installers.
In a statement, Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhees called MPUC’s decision to delay implementation of the new rules “a small victory.”
“Last year the PUC failed to even determine whether their net metering changes would help or hurt consumers before they adopted it,” said Voorhees. “Their flawed rule includes an unprecedented and illegal new tax that solar customers will have to pay on power they consume onsite. This is not only grossly unfair, it is extremely complex to implement. Adding insult to injury, the PUC then abdicated its responsibility to come up with the details needed to implement the rule, saying that the utilities could figure it out. Deferring to utilities seems to be what this PUC does best.”
NRCM, Conservation Law Foundation, ReVision Energy, and the Industrial Energy Consumers Group are challenging the new anti-solar rule on grounds that the decision is inconsistent with state mandates and is not supported by evidence. CLF delivered its opening arguments at the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on December 13.