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. I will begin by stating that, for NRCM, passage of a solid solar power bill is a top priority for the energy committee this session. We believe LD 1652 provides the necessary foundation and vision for making solar energy a priority in Maine.
Solar has arrived. Not just in this committee this session, but as a mainstream energy source. Prices have fallen rapidly, and homeowners, businesses and utilities are investing in solar at a rapid rate across the country. In the third quarter of 2013, 930 megawatts (MW) of solar power were installed in the United States, with an estimated total for 2013 of 5,000 MW of new solar power. That’s the equivalent of five nuclear power plants of new solar added last year. In May of last year, solar panels in Germany (mostly on rooftops) were generating as much power during warm daytime hours as 20 nuclear power plants operating at full capacity. And across New England, well over 200 MW of solar was installed in 2013.
However one of the most compelling aspects of solar isn’t how big it is, but how little it can be. Solar creates the opportunity for ordinary Maine people to produce their own power in an affordable way, no matter what town or county they live in. Maine people deserve an affordable, accessible and fair way to take control of their power with rooftop solar. Although our investor-owned utilities would like to limit and control our ability to expand solar, it is clearly in the public interest to move forward.
Solar energy provides multiple benefits and advantages:
- Solar helps reduce air pollution from power plants and moving us closer to our goals for reduce climate-changing carbon pollution. It is difficult to overstate the imperative to reduce our combustion of fossil fuels that is raising temperatures and sea-levels; increasing acidity in the oceans; threatening many sectors of our economy such as winter recreation, freshwater fisheries and forestry; and increasing diseases such as Lyme and West Nile.
- Solar is the most widely available energy source, available in all parts of Maine, on homes and businesses of all kinds, locations and income levels. And the jobs go where the solar is, meaning solar could be an economic driver in every county.
- Solar energy is a stable, local source of energy which reduces import of fossil fuels—and exports of money out of our economy—and is not subject to the price volatility of those fuels.
- Solar produces power when we most need it, during those hot, sunny, “peak days” when power from the grid is most expensive and most polluting.
- As a local energy resource, solar puts Maine people to work capturing it. Maine already has 45 solar businesses employing over 270 workers.
Maine people intuitively understand some of the benefits of solar power. In opinion polling in 2010, Maine people were asked about a variety of energy resources. (“Please tell me whether you would support or oppose increasing the use of each source of energy to meet Maine’s future needs.”) Solar garnered the highest level of support: 92% of Mainers somewhat or strongly support. (Wind, hydro, and tidal all received support between 80-90%, as did energy efficiency.)
Unfortunately Maine is falling behind on solar power. Nations and states with equal or less solar intensity than Maine are taking much greater advantage of solar energy. The attached charts show Maine’s existing solar capacity compared to our neighboring states, both as an absolute amount and per capita. New Hampshire has double the solar power per capita as Maine. Massachusetts has ten times the solar per person, and Vermont twenty times. Not surprisingly, they each have at least twice as many solar jobs per capita.
The states around us are increasing their energy independence, strengthening their economy, reducing their share of regional peak load and improving air quality faster than us. They each have clear policies to boost solar and make it easier for people and businesses to invest in solar.
This bill would establish a foundation upon which to establish a clear solar policy. It establishes some vision and some goals to work towards. And it asks the various state agencies in charge of helping increase business investment to look for opportunities to boost solar businesses and investments. Goals can always be adjusted, but these goals seem like the right mix of ambitious and achievable.¹ Vermont (a smaller state than Maine) installed about 20 MW of solar just last year. Massachusetts already has nearly 400 MW of solar installed.²
With the expiration of the solar rebate program, Maine is now the only New England state with no specific policies to expand solar energy. The result is that solar is less affordable and less accessible here than anywhere else in the region. While hundreds of homeowners are moving forward with solar on their own, Maine needs to do more if we want to accelerate the benefits of solar and make it more widely accessible for Mainers.
NRCM urges the committee to improve LD 1652 by including some of the other policies before this committee since last year. Specifically we urge you to re-establish funding for the solar rebate program for at least two years. The rebate program is a known commodity: we know it works and the solar industry is familiar with it. It is not as good as structural, long-term policies that recognize the full value of solar, such as a feed-in tariff or a solar component of the RPS. However we recognize that it will take multiple efforts to put in place a full solar policy for Maine.
We also urge you to take action now to make our net-metering laws more fair. It’s time to end the practice of homeowners and businesses that invest in solar having to forfeit excess solar power to the grid uncompensated. To take into consideration some of the concerns expressed by utilities, we would support a limit (perhaps 200% of the amount of power consumed on site annually) and reimbursement, beyond 100% of consumption, at the avoided cost of energy, not the full retail rate.
This brings me to the utilities and potential opposition to expanding solar power in Maine. Maine needs to tackle of one of the causes of increasing electric rates: expensive transmission lines and grid build-out driven primarily by peak load. Solar is a big part of the answer because rooftop solar reduces stress on the electric grid when we most need it, on hot summer peak days.
Utilities have helped kept the lid on policies to support distributed, rooftop solar with scary messages about expensive subsidies and rate impacts. Utilities and fossil fuel special interests across the country are waging war against distributed solar policies. Here in Maine, Central Maine Power has proposed a rate design to the Public Utilities Commission that would severely undermine the economics of distributed solar. The utilities put forward an overly simplistic straw-man, asking “Who will pay for the electric grid if everyone has solar on their roof?” All across the nation and our region, studies are showing the real truth: the status quo, transmission-build-out path that utilities favor is actually driving up rates, while the true value of distributed peak-solar as a good deal for ratepayers is increasingly understood.
This committee has learned about the success story of solar as a non-transmission alternative in Boothbay. We are gratified to hear the broad support from the committee for increasing non-transmission alternatives in specific contexts like this. However you should keep in mind that the need to manage peak demand growth over time is broad and difficult to forecast. Please refer to the map attached to my testimony, which comes from CMP’s transmission case, the Maine Power Reliability Project (MPRP). This map shows the “Areas of Need” that their billion dollar transmission upgrade was designed to meet. It is basically the entire service territory. By the time the situation had gotten to that point, a very expensive transmission upgrade appeared unavoidable to many parties. We can’t let that happen again.
Broad policies to control peak load growth are needed across the state and sustained over time. This is one of the benefits of broadly dispersed programs to increase energy efficiency. Energy efficiency was also a star performer in the Boothbay pilot, but it would be narrow and backward to suggest we should only do energy efficiency in places like that. Utilities might prefer that, but that would miss much of the opportunity solar provides.
We urge you to pass LD 1652 with additional amendments to establish solar power as a priority for Maine and begin to help more Mainers take control of their energy future.
1 We believe these goals can also accommodate solar thermal energy, which has large potential as well, and can be translated into megawatt equivalencies for the purpose of tracking our progress.
2 In addition, a 2013 report by Synapse estimated the potential for at least 165 MW of solar in Vermont by 2020. The report estimated a much lower number for Maine because they considered the policy framework in each state. That policy framework going forward is up to this committee and the Legislature.