New rules being considered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission could have a major impact on the future of solar power in the state.
The changes would cut financial incentives for homeowners with solar panels. Advocates say without those incentives, people and businesses will be less likely to invest in solar power and growth of the industry will slow dramatically.
“That’s a significant hit to the economics of people who are thinking of putting solar on their roof”, said Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
At issue is something called net-metering. Energy not used by the owner of a solar system goes back to the power grid and the owners are credited for that energy.
The cuts would affect not only homeowners and businesses that already have systems in place but future systems as well. Caitlin Frame was considering a photovoltaic system for her organic dairy farm in Monmouth.
“Without net metering, it will be financially unfeasible for us to install a PV system,” she said. “This leaves our energy costs far less predictable.”
Solar systems have become less expensive to install, while the net metering rates have remained the same for more than 20 years. The spokesperson for the PUC said that’s one of the reasons the cuts are being proposed.
Utilities, such as Central Maine Power, pay the credits for net metering. Those costs are passed on to customers. The PUC’s Harry Lanphear said commissioners are trying to find the right balance.
“What we’re really trying to get at it here is what’s fair for all ratepayers,” he said. “That’s really the crux of the issue here and that’s why we’re holding this public hearing and seeking comments on this issue.”
Written comments on the changes will be accepted until Nov. 2 with a decision expected by the end of the year. Critics of the changes said it should be up to our elected leaders to set energy policy. They’re urging the PUC to leave this matter up to the legislature.