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The future of solar power in Maine is on the line

The information below is excerpted from ReVision Energy‘s April 2016 newsletter:

Maine’s NeXt Metering Hangs in the Balance

Solar for MaineMaine has made national headlines for its innovative proposed solar policy, which brought together interests as diverse as utility companies, ratepayer advocates, labor unions, environmental groups, municipal representatives, and solar installers to develop an evolution of net metering.

Unfortunately, the widespread consensus shattered when the bill arrived in Maine’s legislature. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram), who previously supported the bill, abruptly turned around and advocated a stance to maintain the status quo.

The Governor’s office has made their intentions clear, by advocating a position which would cap rates for solar well below their market value and reduce the term of solar contracts to ten years, effectively making solar impossible to build in Maine. . .

What is LD1649 all about?

Some of the key provisions of the bill:
  • Establishes goal of 250MW installed solar by 2022 (12.5x what Maine has now)
  • Expands solar market in Maine to reach to include utility-scale projects, commercial/industrial projects, and large scale community solar
  • Completely lifts cap on community solar
  • Saves rate payers over $100,000,000 over the program life! All solar projects under the new plan would get a fixed-rate 20-yr contract price for exported solar power
  • All solar projects under the new plan would get a fixed-rate 20-yr contract price for exported solar power
  • Gathers ‘money left on the table’ by current net metering by allowing small solar producers to aggregate and sell into solar markets (this is essentially how the ‘value of solar’ is recovered and pass on as savings to all ratepayers)
  • Grandfathers in existing net metering customers (and new customers until program implementation)

Some answers to questions we’re getting:

Should I go solar now or wait?

People who go solar now can get the best of both worlds – the full benefits of retail net metering now, and the choice of whether to switch over to the new policy or stay with net metering once the new policy is introduced. As we’ve warned, should LD1649 fail, a full attack on net metering may be next, and the best safeguard to this is probably to already be enrolled in the program.

LD1649 specifically does not want to create a gap in the market where homeowners postpone an investment until after the program is in place. Should LD1649 going into effect, any existing net-metered systems can stick with net metering through 2029, or choose to enroll in the new program at the best possible rate.

Does this do away with net metering?

This program seeks to replace net metering with a program that resolves the conflict over net metering in the long-term and will get more solar built in the near-term. If the program fails to get as much solar built as it is intended to do, it has a mechanism by which rates will be re-adjusted, or, barring a fix, will restore net metering completely.

Importantly, anyone who has net metering can stay with it; all parties agree with the need to grandfather in existing solar customers.

Is this policy a subsidy?

No. Numerous studies, most importantly, Maine’s Value of Solar study, suggest that current retail net metering actually UNDER compensates solar generators for their electricity. However, in the spirit of compromise (and current policy reality) we recognize that an evolution to net metering can improve Maine’s solar market in a number of ways.

At least as the bill is written now, this program would replace net metering (and not run both programs in parallel). Again, if the new program fails to perform, net metering exactly as it exists today will return to Maine.

LD1649 makes the solar pricing process more transparent and recovers some market value currently underutilized by net metering, which is how it is modeled to save $55MM+ to Maine ratepayers (based on modeling from Maine’s Public Advocate).

Do you support the bill?

Yes. We particularly appreciate what the bill represents – leadership from a wide coalition of Mainers, from the utilities to labor unions, in solving a challenging policy question. All parties unite around a central concept: “How do we get more solar installed in Maine?” and then worked through different points of view, finding common ground that enabled the group to rough out the terms that ultimately have become the proposal before the legislature today.

We are extremely frustrated that a small group of players, oddly enough, Governor LePage and out of state solar companies, have allied to do everything possible to stop it.

What happens next?

Legislators have yet to vote on the bill, and in the meantime we and all solar advocates are pressing hard to get phone calls and emails into them. Our impression from the legislature is that they see few electoral repercussions if they don’t stand for solar – an impression we need to change. Legislators need to hear from you that you expect them to step away from knee jerk partisanship and to instead work collaboratively to tackle the issues and seize the opportunities in front of them.

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