Urge legislators to keep Maine from lagging on solar energy and jobs
News release by Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Association of Building Professionals
Augusta, ME—Dozens of Maine homeowners and small business owners assembled at the State House today to call on legislators to pass solar legislation this session that will lower barriers for rooftop solar energy and create and retain solar jobs. Speakers described solar energy as a clean, local energy resource that has entered the mainstream and reduces electric grid costs and air pollution. Several solar businesses were on hand to explain how Maine’s solar industry has grown, but is now in jeopardy unless the Legislature re-establishes a key solar program whose funding expired in 2013.
“Maine’s solar industry now employs more than 250 people,” said Bob Howe, President of the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals. “But as solar energy prices fall, other states are moving much more rapidly to build solar and create solar jobs. It’s time for Maine to move forward—not backward—on solar policy.”
“In the last 10 years, my Maine-based solar installation company has expanded from our original 2 employees to over 60 today,” said Fortunat Mueller, co-owner of Revision Energy. “But after being an early leader a decade ago in solar energy adoption, Maine is starting to fall behind and is in danger of being left behind entirely. It is time to bring grater investment, increased jobs and more energy savings back to Maine.”
“Maine has a great solar energy resource,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Did you know a solar panel in Maine will produce more energy than that same panel in Houston, Texas? And yet Maine is falling behind our neighboring states in terms of solar installations and solar jobs. Moving forward on solar is a good step for electricity consumers, clean air, and Maine’s energy independence.”
Speakers called on the Legislature to pass LD 1252, An Act to Improve Maine’s Energy Security and Economy with Solar Energy. This bill, which received a bipartisan (but divided) vote from the energy committee this month, will soon be voted on by the full Legislature. The amended bill re-establishes the Solar Rebate Program at Efficiency Maine, which helped hundreds of homeowners and small business owners afford solar panels (for electricity and hot water) for many years. Funding for the program lapsed in 2013, leaving Maine the only state in the Northeast without any policy or program specifically to promote solar energy.
“I think Maine people value our independence,” said Bob Luke, a homeowner from Scarborough with solar panels. “I certainly feel good about producing a bunch of my own energy with solar panels on my home. It’s clean, renewable energy, and now I’m putting that energy to use for me and for the electric grid as a whole.”
LD 1252 would re-instate the solar program by re-establishing its previous funding for 2.5 years (until the end of 2016 when the federal solar tax credit also expires). Funding for the $1 million program would again come from ratepayers, similar to most other Efficiency Maine programs, and would help roughly 1,200 homeowners and small business owners install rooftop solar over those years. (The bill exempts the largest electricity consumers in Maine from even paying the very small cost of the program. The cost of funding the program is about 60 cents/year for an average homeowner, who is likely to spend roughly $1,000 on electricity.)
“Solar energy should play a significant role in Maine’s energy portfolio,” said Representative Sara Gideon of Freeport, a member of the Energy & Utilities Committee. “It is essential that we do more to curb the flow of our energy dollars out of state and take control of rising electricity grid costs with smart, distributed generation. Solar energy can help us accomplish those goals. We should pass LD 1252 right away or risk falling further behind on solar.”
According to an industry factsheet, the solar program has been essential to growing the solar industry to date, and without it, Maine may lose solar jobs while New Hampshire and Massachusetts gain, as those states have policies and incentives that cut payback periods for small solar projects.
“LD 1252 will have an immediate impact on solar investment and on retaining and creating jobs while Maine continues the work of building long-term solar energy policies,” said Voorhees.
The speakers detailed how solar energy, unlike most energy resources, is available literally everywhere in the state, in every town and county. Rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels also produce energy right where we use energy, and when we need it most, helping control transmission and distribution costs for ratepayers. Solar produces power on hot, sunny, summer days when other sources of electricity are most costly and polluting. Solar hot water panels can directly reduce oil consumption, which is commonly used to heat hot water in homes and businesses.
Solar costs have come down 75% in the last five years, and, now, solar power is the fastest growing energy technology in the world. Last year alone, the United States installed enough solar energy to power a million homes.