Resistance to LePage’s solar policies grows in Maine

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Maine Governor Paul LePage was initially elected to office with less than 40% of the vote, and was largely the beneficiary of a divided opposition. As such, it should not be surprising that the idiosyncratic and opinionated former businessman has taken a number of positions which are unpopular in his state.

Solar is no exception. LePage has championed the dismantling of net metering in the state through his appointees at the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC), and this in particular is spurring resistance from a variety of forces. And after LePage’s veto of an alternative policy was nearly overturned by the state’s legislature, environmentalists and the local solar industry are turning to the courts and public hearings to fight the changes.

Tomorrow the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments in a case brought by in May by Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), Revision Energy and the Industrial Energy Consumer’s Group to fight the changes to net metering, which will involve reducing the compensation rate for new customer-owned distributed PV systems as a portion of retail rates every year.

CLF and the other plaintiffs argue that MPUC’s decision to set the new policy is not supported by evidence in its proceedings and is not supported by existing law, including what they describe as “unjust discrimination” in the application of transmission and distribution charges to those customers. They are also arguing that MPUC has exceeded it statutory authority making the changes.

Earlier this month MPUC delayed implementation of the new rule from January 1 to April 30, over concerns about how deadlines should be interpreted. However, CLF says that it is seeking more than simple delay of implementation.

“This senseless rule jeopardizes the growth of clean, local solar energy in Maine,” said CLF Maine Director Sean Mahoney. “Delaying implementation doesn’t fix the fact that this rule hurts businesses and families, hampers our energy independence, and harms one of the fastest growing sectors of Maine’s economy. We need to eliminate this disastrous policy, not just procrastinate its implementation.”

LePage’s appointees at MPUC are not satisfied with merely dismantling net metering, but have proposed simultaneously increasing the interconnection fees for PV owners. This is also meeting resistance, and NRCM is mobilizing environmentalists and solar advocates to attend a public hearing today at 3 PM at MPUC in Hallowell, Maine.

“This proposed rule change is yet another effort by the PUC to make it more difficult and costly for Mainers to install solar,” says Sue Ely, NRCM clean energy attorney. “Instead of modernizing the application process to make it easier and cheaper for Maine towns, businesses, and homeowners to install solar, the PUC and CMP are simply increasing fees on solar customers.”