By Samantha Paradis, Mayor of Belfast
Bangor Daily News op-ed
As legislators reconsider solar legislation early this week, the Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development stands with Maine people, towns and businesses that can benefit from solar power and supports overturning Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the solar bill, LD 1444.
It is discouraging that jockeying and political pressure last week impeded this modest and widely bipartisan bill. The Maine House failed to override the governor’s veto, but House Democratic leaders invoked rules that have kept the bill alive a little longer. Legislators have one last opportunity to choose to support Maine people, businesses and towns’ ability to harness solar power.
From Gorham to Gray to Dayton to Carrabassett Valley and beyond, Maine towns have taken the lead, investing in community solar arrays to stabilize budgets, save residents money, produce clean energy, reduce pollution, cut local taxes and boost jobs. Many more cities and towns across Maine are looking to do so, too.
The solar bill under consideration will help in two major ways. The bill will allow up to 50 electricity users to share in a community solar project, instead of the current arbitrary cap of nine. Even Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of a Spanish company lobbying against the solar bill, submitted comments last year supporting a “ realistic cap of 200 customers” per community solar project. These larger solar arrays can benefit from an economy of scale, too, and raising this cap may invite business and industrial parks to pursue joint solar projects that can help lower energy costs and attract new businesses.
Here in Belfast, we installed 396 solar panels on the town’s capped landfill site and more on the roof of the fire station, too. It has been an unquestionable success, with the panels sitting there cleanly and quietly pumping out kilowatt-hours day after day.
Our experience has been so good that last month, the City Council approved the construction of an additional solar array, which will help us power a new public works facility with virtually no annual fuel costs. Together with our previous solar installations, Belfast will generate close to 90 percent of the electric load used by city buildings and facilities, making us more energy independent, reducing pollution and saving money for taxpayers.
Municipal solar installations let towns seize a great opportunity to stabilize and reduce energy costs. And with ever-rising energy costs and tight budgets, solar power provides steady financial benefits to our residents. As municipal decision makers, it is important for us to be stewards of our towns’ budgets and resources. Solar power helps stabilize energy costs for years into the future — the savings go into pockets of local taxpayers and back into our economy. More Maine towns deserve this opportunity.
In addition to increasing the number of meters allowed in a group solar project, LD 1444 stops utilities like Central Maine Power from implementing the Maine Public Utilities Commission scheme to charge a “gross metering” fee on the solar power people or businesses make and use in their own homes and shops. The Mayors’ Coalition also opposes this new fee.
This absurd new fee on solar power that people make and use on site would be equivalent to a grocery store charging you money for the tomatoes you grow in your backyard and eat at home. Furthermore, because of the complex equipment and billing changes that would be needed, “gross metering” would actually increase electricity bills for all Mainers, regardless of whether they have solar, and it would serve no benefit or purpose.
That’s right, a failure to pass this bill will raise electricity bills for all Mainers.
In addition, solar energy helps to protect the health of Mainers for years to come. As a registered nurse, I know and see the value of clean air to the health of Mainers. Maine has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, which can be directly linked to poor air quality. Solar systems generate electricity, while producing no air pollution.
The Mayors’ Coalition supports LD 1444 because it ensures that municipalities can continue to transition to solar energy. We appreciate the broad bipartisan supermajority of lawmakers that voted to enact the bill in March. We encourage them to cast one final vote so that it can become law, and urge all Mainers to reach out to their elected officials to gather their support as well.