Today, Maine regulators took the first steps in repealing what has been one of the strangest and most regressive policies for valuing residential solar in the United States to date: gross metering.
The policy imposed by the administration of outgoing Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) created a system whereby the commission set valuation for customer-generated solar power even for electricity that is generated and consumed on-site. In addition to this, Public Utilities Commission of Maine (PUCM) decreed that the value of electricity generated by on-site solar should fall 10% every year based on the year that such systems are installed.
However, in an about-face these regulators are now returning mid-sized and large- customers to net metering, following a petition by Maine installer Insource Renewables. The issue spurring the change appears to be the cost of installing meters to measure electricity consumption on site, which Insource cited at around $3,300 per meter.
PUCM imposing costs on non-solar customers
There is a tremendous irony in that both LePage and the regulators he appointed based their decision to implement this policy on costs that customers with rooftop solar were allegedly imposing on other customers – even though such claims of a “cost shift” have been widely debunked.
Furthermore, the PUC’s solution appears to have been far more costly than the alleged cost shift, with the meters imposing thousands in costs versus the alleged $50 per customer “cost shift”.
Math does not appear to have been the LePage Administration’s strong suit, and LePage’s frequent outbursts on the topic suggested that the move to weaken solar policies may have been driven by less technical considerations.
The decision applies to the state’s three investor-owned utilities (Central Maine Power, Bangor Hydro-Electric Company and Maine Public Service), which are the same ones upon whom gross metering was imposed by the PUC and who serve the vast majority of customers in the state.
In the service areas of these utilities, new mid-sized to large customers who install solar will move back to a simple monthly netting of solar production, but will still be subject to the declining valuation of this electricity. The cut off between these and smaller customers is estimated at around 20-25 kW of peak electricity demand (depending on the utility), which Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) says will include most businesses with offices larger than a standard home.
Beginning of the end
NRCM, which has consistently fought LePage’s policy changes in collaboration with the state’s solar industry, celebrated the development but stated that the gross metering provision should be reversed for all customers, not just the larger ones.
“This is the beginning of the end for a failed policy that has thwarted Maine’s renewable energy sector, penalized Maine people and businesses that want to invest in energy independence, and needlessly burdened all ratepayers,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “While we are disappointed that the PUC did not also drop gross metering for Maine homes and small businesses, the evidence is in that this policy has got to go before more damage is done.”
It is possible that the Maine Legislature will reverse the current PUC’s solar compensation policy entirely when it reconvenes. The legislature has tried repeatedly to do so, but narrowly failed to override LePage’s vetoes. However, incoming Governor Janet Mills (D) has stated her intention to return the state to net metering.
“We look forward to leaving behind this sorry chapter in Maine’s renewable energy history books,” said Voorhees. “Repealing gross metering will be a necessary reset, and then we have much more to do to move the state forward on solar power and renewable energy.”