Senator David Woodsome, Chair
Representative Seth Berry, 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 (NRCM). Thank you for allowing us to present this testimony. We strongly support this bill, which will increase Maine’s energy independence, and help businesses, towns and Mainers statewide generate their own solar power. It will reduce pollution and create hundreds of new solar installation jobs so that Maine will catch up with other states that are taking advantage of the economic benefits available from solar.
Given the multi-year history of solar policy discussions in and out of the statehouse, as well as the dramatic regulatory changes over the last year, there is a tremendous amount of information that we might provide in support of this bill. We believe you will receive a lot of this information from the body of testimony you will receive, and look forward to providing information to the committee in response to its needs as it works the bill.
Today we would like to offer four fundamental points that rise above the rest.
- Maine is becoming increasingly hostile to solar power and businesses that want to invest in our state.
Solar is a clean, local energy resource available across the state, in every county, urban and rural. As the price of solar has come down so dramatically over the last several years, it has become a very attractive investment opportunity everywhere the sun shines. That is true for homeowners, businesses large and small, municipalities and other institutions that are willing to invest in miniature power plants to supply and deliver power to themselves and their neighbors. It is evidenced by the dramatic increase in solar investment across the country and region. And it is that opportunity rings true for the solar businesses here in Maine ready to install solar and invest in their companies. They employ tradesmen and -women, engineers, installers, salespeople and others. This is a tremendous opportunity for a state desperate for investment and attract and retain workers with good quality jobs that cannot be exported.
But Maine has largely turned away from this opportunity by failing to adopt fair, sensible, effective policies to encourage solar, and by creating a political, policy and regulatory climate of hostility at worst and uncertainty at best. This uncertainty is the enemy of investment. This is why Maine remains in last place throughout the region for solar power and solar jobs. It is time to turn that around and make Maine open for solar business again.
- If you do not take action this session, you will be complicit in the PUC rollback.
The Public Utilities Commission amendments to net metering rules are incredibly ill-conceived. They are not based on any coherent analysis, will harm ratepayers overall, and include some of the most extreme anti-solar provisions of any such rules in the country. Most egregious is a bizarre and irresponsible proposal that requires solar homes and businesses to pay transmission and distribution rates on power that is consumed behind the meter and never touches the electricity grid.
NRCM and literally thousands of Mainers repeatedly urged the PUC to wait for the Legislature to enact solar policy before making changes to net metering. Obviously they went forward anyway. However they decided that the rules would not take effect until 2018, specifically so that the legislature would see where we are headed and have a chance to take action before that happens. So that’s where we are. The rules are published. Their flaws—or merits, if you choose—are on display. We’ve been clear about what we think of them, and we know the public strongly opposes them. But it is up to this committee and this legislature to condone them through inaction, or take action by passing this bill to stabilize net metering policy and allow Maine to move forward.
- The ratepayer benefits of solar are real, and opponents of solar and net metering have failed to provide real evidence and analysis to support any rollback.
In 2014, the Legislature directed the PUC to conduct a detailed analysis of the costs and benefits of distributed solar. The framework was specifically designed to identify the value of solar from a ratepayer and societal perspective. The PUC hired highly competent consultants and took public input at multiple stages. Since the conclusions were published, showing substantial value—including to non-solar ratepayers—the PUC itself and solar opponents have tried to ignore and disavow those findings. However those values of solar are based on firm analysis, and are consistent with the findings of many other states.
According to the PUC’s analysis, the roughly 25 MW of solar currently installed in Maine will result in monetary savings to non-solar ratepayers through avoided generation and transmission costs of $115 million, levelized over 25-years. That is in addition to the substantial environmental and public health benefits, in addition to the broader economic benefits. Even if those calculations were off by half, the benefits are tremendous and will grow as solar increases.
No party has put forward any complete, transparent analysis supporting the idea that distributed solar is harmful to ratepayers. Central Maine Power (CMP), the Governor’s Energy Office, and the PUC itself have asserted costs and cost-shifts without providing actual evidence or quantifiable analysis. (Even if the claims were true, the cost is virtually insignificant, and CMP has generally failed to acknowledge the ratepayer benefits of solar.) The PUC had every opportunity to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of net metering itself and failed to do so. We wonder if they were nervous about what such a study would reveal, given the preponderance of evidence about the value of solar. One of the useful provisions in this bill is to require such an analysis as solar grows beyond the tiny 1% of peak load it represents today.
- Maine needs to encourage multiple kinds of solar and multiple policy tools – but the first step is to stabilize solar markets.
NRCM supported a comprehensive solar bill last year that had some innovative policies. The bill encouraged solar of virtually every size and type. We believe many of those policy ideas continue to have merit. However it is important to understand that our situation has changed. A year ago, what little “solar policy” remained in Maine (with the expiration of the solar rebate several years ago) was net metering. Now that is on the brink. Exploration of new policy approaches remain important as we modernize our grid and do more to encourage distributed generation. But those debates will become intellectual exercises if Maine does not take action now to stabilize solar markets and ensure for businesses and would-be solar investors that Maine is at least a minimally desirable place to do solar. Clearly establishing net metering in law and re-establishing a modest, short-term and targeted solar rebate program are basic, prudent steps. They are not fancy or complex, they are fundamentals than can take us forward to the next steps.
Therefore we urge you to adopt this legislation.