A bill up for vote this week means the PUC could ensure wise use of solar, despite CMP’s cockeyed arguments otherwise.
by Tony Buxton, special to the Press Herald
Press Herald op-ed
If the Legislature passed a law making you pay your grocer for the vegetables you grow in your own garden, you would be pretty unhappy. You’d have even greater unhappiness if you had to pay your oil dealer for burning firewood you cut off your own land.
This is precisely the crux of the current solar battle in Augusta – Central Maine Power’s and the Public Utilities Commission’s effort to require people who generate power with rooftop solar used in their own homes to pay CMP as though the power had been delivered over CMP’s grid.
It’s also the basis for CMP’s absurd cost impact estimates for solar and apparently for its support of Gov. LePage’s latest solar veto. Both are obviously wrong.
Nobody disputes that we all should pay the utility when we use the grid, and everyone with solar at home does just that for the power CMP delivers to them – paying some of the highest electric rates in the nation.
We all pay those costs, to the great benefit of CMP and its parent company in Spain. (CMP’s 2016 profits: $136 million.) The larger question, one we citizens of Maine have every right to ask, is why the utility to whom we have given a power-delivery monopoly feels it has the right to seriously mislead us about the actual cost of solar. With our grant of that monopoly comes a duty of straightforward guidance, not something else.
At worst, assuming rooftop solar has no benefits to other ratepayers, an assumption Maine’s Public Advocate and PUC strongly reject as false, rooftop solar costs CMP ratepayers a little more than $1 million a year. But let’s call it $2 million to be conservative. That’s $2 million out of $834 million of CMP’s total cost to Maine citizens, about two-tenths of 1 percent of your CMP bill. This is simply negligible compared to the cost of CMP’s new, ratepayer- financed, $52 million billing system, or the $100 million in CMP smart meters they forgot to program actually to be “smart,” or CMP’s recent transmission rate increase of $44 million, the largest utility rate increase in Maine history.
These costs, along with stunningly high rates of return provided by federal and state regulators of 10 to 12 percent (compare that to your interest rate on your bank account), help make CMP s delivery rates among the highest in the nation.
Don’t let CMP fool you. These high rates aren’t caused by solar on someone’s roof.
The solar bill, which is extremely similar to a bill offered by Republicans last year, requires the PUC to determine the costs and benefits of rooftop solar and to consider time-of-use rates and other mechanisms to match more closely the benefits provided to customers with rooftop solar to the value that such solar provides to other ratepayers. This is what is happening in many other states around the country, and it’s a good time for it to happen in Maine.
While that analysis is being conducted, the bill requires a 10 percent decrease in the rates applicable to rooftop solar each year for two years. That’s right: The bill lowers the already small cost of solar to other ratepayers.
When the PUC completes its design of time-of-use rates and other revised compensation mechanisms, rooftop solar will be properly compensated for its value in avoiding other costs for ratepayers – other costs such as more unnecessary investment in transmission lines on which CMP earns 11 percent to 12 percent every year, whether or not we actually need the lines.
The solar bill to be decided this week in Augusta will both control solar costs and cause solar to be used where utilities can use it to lower consumer costs, such as by avoiding those expensive power lines. The PUC will have tools and policy direction it needs to ensure that solar is used wisely, lowering consumer costs.
No wonder some would blind us to the real facts about the solar legislation.