Proposed Maine Solar Legislation Will Increase Access to Solar, Lower Electric Costs for All, Spur Job Creation
NRCM news release
Augusta, ME—Municipal, business, conservation leaders and others gathered at the State House today to describe the benefits of solar power for Maine, and urge lawmakers to take action to prevent Maine from falling further behind the region in participating in the expanding opportunity solar provides. From homeowners in Aroostook County to a college in Waterville to a town garage in Wells, solar is providing Mainers with their own source of power that is secure, local, and affordable. However, representatives of solar businesses, towns, and others, described the energy, cost, and job opportunities for solar that Maine is missing out on because it is the only state in the region that lacks any specific policies to encourage solar. In fact, Maine has many significant regulatory and financial barriers that preventing residents from accessing solar.
New analysis shows that LD 1263 would make it significantly easier for homes, businesses, and others to invest in solar. In addition, an examination of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s value of solar analysis shows both that solar would offer significant benefits to Maine residents and ratepayers, and that current policies fall far short in treating solar owners fairly for the public benefits their solar provides.
“Despite a national transformation in solar technology and costs over the last few years, Maine is in last place in the entire Northeast for the amount of solar installed per capita,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Our lack of solar policies means we’re also falling behind in creating good-paying solar jobs, and failing to help towns, businesses, homeowners, and others invest in this clean, limitless, native energy resource.”
Maine has a very strong solar resource, as good as or better than Texas, Florida, and many other places with significantly more installed solar. In addition, overall prices for solar have come down 50% over just the last few years, unleashing a new era in solar installations across the country and in much of the Northeast, which struggles with higher electric rates.
“The last time I checked there weren’t any oil wells in Maine,” said David Foley, who owns a home in Northport with 12 solar panels that provides all the power his house and small business need. “When we can use clean, local energy sources cost-effectively, that just seems like common sense. When we can keep money that would otherwise go out of state in local hands, that seems like a good idea. When we can cut our expenses and generate some good-paying skilled jobs in this state, that seems like a win-win.”
“I grew up in central Maine then left the state for college,” said James Manzer, a solar installer from Emden with Revision. “After college I didn’t feel there were many economic opportunities for me in Maine so I worked elsewhere. I came back to Maine and I couldn’t have been more excited to find a job in solar, and I desperately hope we can create more local solar jobs for Mainers like me. It’s a job that pays a good wage with benefits, and is a job that I feel proud to get up and do every day. I am excited to be a part of an industry that is poised to grow and I hope that I get to grow with it in Maine.”
LD 1263 is estimated to spur approximately 200 megawatts (MW) of new solar in Maine by 2022. Maine has only 11 MW today, however Vermont already has 70 MW and Massachusetts installed 300 MW just last year. According to data from the Solar Foundation, states across the Northeast have an average of approximately 15 solar jobs per MW installed, meaning an additional 200 MW could mean nearly 3,000 direct solar jobs.
“Just like most other large institutions, Thomas College is always seeking ways to lower our energy costs, as well as increasing sustainability,” said Chris Rhoda, Vice President for Information Services. “That’s why we are very proud of and pleased with our 175 KW rooftop solar array, installed in 2012. It’s one of the state’s largest solar projects, generating as much power last year as would be used by 25 homes. We hope many more Maine colleges, businesses, and others can replicate our success with solar.”
However for each story of a successful Maine home or business that is putting the sun to work for them, there are dozens more missing out, because the state is doing so little to encourage solar investment. Cities like South Portland and Sanford have large capped landfills that they have been hoping to put to good use for solar, but have been stymied by regulatory barriers. Those barriers on community solar include an arbitrary limit on 10 people that can participate in a shared solar project, which LD 1263 would raise to at 50 participants (and potentially more).
“For the last few years the City of South Portland has been exploring a significant solar farm to benefit our residents, businesses, and property tax payers,” said South Portland City Planner Tex Haeuser. “Although the city has a capped landfill that would be a perfect location for a solar installation, we’ve struggled with various economic barriers and limitations that make municipal solar needlessly difficult. We believe legislation like LD 1263 would make it much more feasible for South Portland to go forward with solar.”
A new analysis conducted by NRCM and Revision Energy compared the financial returns on an identical solar installation if it were installed in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. It found the payback period for a residential solar project would be in the range of 5-8 years in the first three states, all of which have policies to encourage solar, compared to 14 years in Maine. The contrasts were even greater for the modeled commercial solar project. That makes it much harder for Mainers to make the upfront investment in solar.
However if LD 1263 were adopted, allowing homes, businesses, and others to earn additional revenue in the form of solar credits, the payback period for residential solar in Maine would shrink nearly in half to eight years. (Payback for commercial installations would also be cut in half, to just over nine years.) Solar panels are typically warranted for at least 25 years.
The PUC study estimated that the full value of solar electricity produced in Maine, averaged over 25 years would be 33 cents/kilowatt hour. This included a wide range of benefits to Maine people and ratepayers generally, such as lower costs of the electricity system (power plants and transmission lines), less volatile electricity prices, and reduced pollution. In fact, the study indicates that more than half of the value of each kilowatt-hour of solar now actually accrues to those other than the homeowner or business with solar.
Those who invest in solar in Maine today receive net-metering credits worth only about 13 cents/kwh for a product that is estimated to be worth 33 cents.
“The work of the Legislature, PUC, and solar stakeholders over the last two years has brought Maine to the place where our choice is clear: either we take action now to stop falling behind on solar or we make the default choice to rely on more expensive options,” said Voorhees. “Solar power provides meaningful benefits to all Mainers, including through lower energy costs. But Maine’s current policies limit access to solar are unfair to those who do invest, and are keeping Maine from enjoying the lower energy costs, good jobs, and reduced air pollution that solar could bring us.”