Maine net metering case sent to lower court

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A legal challenge to the Maine Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) decision to phase out net metering made by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in Maine has been rejected by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

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The opinion, delivered by Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, deemed that the case would have to appear before the a state Superior Court before it could be appealed to and decided upon by the Supreme Judicial Court. This was presented as standard practice for cases regarding PUC to go before a Superior Court. CLF argued that since the challenge was regarding net metering that it was a rate change case, which can be brought directly before the Supreme Judicial Court.

Saufley explained her opinion, writing:

Because all of the issues raised by CLF in this appeal are challenges to the Commission’s exercise of its rulemaking authority, whether or not they are couched in terms of “questions of law” related to that appeal, we do not, and should not, have jurisdiction over direct appeals from a rulemaking proceeding. 35-A M.R.S. § 1320(1). Accordingly, we must dismiss the appeal.

This decision marks the Maine solar industry’s second setback this summer. In June, Maine’s idiosyncratic governor Paul LePage vetoed L.D. 1504, a bill which would have expanded net metering and established a utility standard of purchasing 50 MW of large-scale distributed solar a year, starting in 2022.

LePage has been open in his distain for net metering and renewable energy writ large during his time as governor. He has described the bill as a tax on ratepayers that benefits only “wealthy people who can afford redundant electric systems.” 2018 is the third year in a row that LaPage has successfully vetoed some form of solar energy legislation, often narrowly avoiding having his vetoes overturned.

The fight for net metering in Maine is not yet over, as CLF filed to the Supreme Judicial Court as an attempt to overturn the regulatory change before customers and the state’s solar industry would see its affects. The changes to net metering, which reduce compensation for new installations every year, are expected to strangle the state’s nascent solar industry in its cradle.

For now the process starts over. CLF plans to file another suit before a Superior Court and whatever decision that court makes will be appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, completing the circle of bureaucracy.