Could The Sun Set On Maine’s Solar Industry?

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is holding a public meeting today on the contentious issue of net-metering reform at 1 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

The proposed changes, supported by Maine’s Governor Paul LePage, would increase the maximum size for an eligible generating facility from 660 kW to 1 MW, but would gradually reduce the amount of the power produced that would be eligible for net-metering over time.

It would also grandfather previous net-metering agreements for a period of 15 years and set the limit for new systems at 10 years. Lastly, it would “protect” non-solar customers from having to shoulder transmission-and-distribution (T&D) costs solar customers do not have because they consume the electricity they produce on site.

Numerous studies in states across the country — including two in Maine (2015 and 2016, respectively)— undercut the utility’s contention that non-solar customers shoulder infrastructure costs avoided by solar customers. The most recent study, completed in August, reported that Maine’s solar customers could save non-solar customers $775 million over 25 years if only 250 MW were installed overall.

In the 2015 Maine legislative session, lawmakers tried to restructure the solar financial incentive without involving the PUC, but LePage vetoed the bill and an override failed by two votes.

Critics of the proposed rule believe it could destroy the solar industry in Maine, which lags behind many of its New England neighbors like Massachusetts and Vermont.

Initiated in September, the PUC investigation was triggered by requirement in Maine’s electricity-generation rules to revisit net-metering once it hit 1 percent of the total generation from Central Maine Power (CMP). The limit was reached last year, as solar made up 1.04 percent of its total generation capacity.