Senator David Woodsome, Chair
Representative Mark Dion, Chair
Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities & Technology
My name is Dylan Voorhees and I am the Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Thank you for allowing us to present this testimony. We also appreciate Senator Saviello’s leadership on this issue and were happy to have the chance to work with him on this bill.
We strongly support this legislation and believe it would make a significant impact—especially in combination with other solar policies—on increasing access to solar power in Maine’s agricultural sector. Maine has an excellent solar resource—comparable to cities like Houston, Miami, or Atlantic City, and better than that of leaders in solar like Germany, Massachusetts, and Vermont. It’s now economical for homes and businesses to produce their own power and increase energy security. Despite this good news, due to our lack of effective solar policies, Maine is falling far behind the region and the U.S. on solar installations and job creation.
The bill does two things. First, it establishes funding for an agricultural solar rebate program modeled on Maine’s broader solar rebate program that ran successfully until funding expired in 2013. The rebate program is limited to agricultural businesses, which are broadly defined. As in the past, the program would be funded with roughly $500,000 in ratepayer funds/year, expiring at the end of 2017. The bill also allows agricultural businesses to get partial credits on their electric bill for solar generation above and beyond what they use on an annual basis, which would otherwise be forfeited under Maine’s current net metering law.
There was considerable bipartisan support for these broad policies ideas last session. This bill takes a more narrow approach by focusing them on the agricultural sector, and I hope it will enjoy even greater support.
Although Maine’s agricultural sector is quite diverse, in general these businesses face additional barriers to investments such as solar. They may lack easy access to capital, and they may located be furthest from Maine’s already small markets of solar installers, which limits their choices and vendor competition that drives down prices. Agricultural businesses often have considerable energy costs and are looking to control those costs.
Without greater energy diversity and more choices, all Maine businesses face volatile and rising energy prices. Rooftop solar offers a way for farms and other agricultural businesses to take control of their own energy costs. While the overall price of solar is increasingly competitive, and there are no fuel costs, all of the cost needs to be paid up-front. This bill is a direct way to reduce up-front costs for solar.
Solar offers many benefits to Maine, including: stabilizing energy costs; employing Maine workers with good-paying jobs; and reducing pollution that threatens our climate and oceans.
While we support this bill on its own merits, the recent Public Utilities Commission’s study on solar policies showed that, in other states, comprehensive, multi-pronged approaches were the most effective at increasing access to solar. This legislation is designed to complement, and not compete with, bills such as LD 1263, which use different policy approaches to achieve broader gains on solar. (Our preliminary analysis is that these two solar bills in combination could cut the payback period for an agricultural solar project by nearly 60%.)
As with the previous solar rebate program, this legislation leaves Efficiency Maine to determine technical qualifications and incentive levels. They would do that based on their regular practice of ensuring that solar installations are reasonably likely to perform as expected, and setting incentives to encourage solar projects that would not otherwise go forward on their own. It allows Efficiency Maine to adjust incentive levels (or qualifications) as market conditions change.
We estimate the funding in this bill could enable roughly 100 – 150 agricultural solar projects, totaling 3 – 5 megawatts, to be completed by the expiration date. Based on the Public Utilities Commission’s value of solar analysis, the total present value of this much solar, levelized over 25-years, would be between $35 – $55 million. Although the agricultural businesses that install solar would generate important long-term savings for themselves, a considerable portion of that value would accrue to other ratepayers and the general public: roughly $25–$40 million. That makes this bill a pretty good deal.
As with solar generally, the benefits of this bill would be broad: it would help agricultural businesses with their energy costs, it would play a modest role in creating clean energy jobs, and it would provide long-term energy benefits for Maine as a whole.
For all of these reasons we urge you to pass this legislation.