Legislators aim to restore reason to Maine’s rooftop solar policy

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On January 2, Janet Mills (D) was inaugurated as the governor of Maine, replacing Paul LePage (R). And only a week later, bills had already been filed to reverse the outgoing governor’s policies.

Former Governor LePage frequently took to the airwaves to rant against renewable energy, and his administration was engaged it all-out war against the energy transition. This included a moratorium against new wind development in coastal and western Maine, but also the imposition of the most bizarre and regressive changes to rooftop solar policy seen by pv magazine this side of Spain.

Maine’s policy not only cut the compensation for the output of rooftop solar by 10% each year depending on the year that the system is installed, but also applied this unsupported reduction in valuation to the entire output of a customer-sited PV system – whether it was supplying the customer’s home or feeding the grid. This invasive accounting system is called “gross metering”.

Incidentally, gross metering requires the installation of costly metering systems, which caused the regulators appointed by LePage to reverse this decision for mid-sized and large commercial customers after being confronted with the costs of installing these meters. Given that the LePage Administration’s entire justification for this punitive policy was saving costs, it wasn’t a good look.

 

“Market-based mechanism”

On Wednesday, Maine Representative Beth O’Connor (R-Berwick) filed a bill to end gross metering and replace it with a “market-based mechanism”, whereby the excess output of a PV system is eligible for a monetary credit at the wholesale rate. The bill goes so far as to specifically prohibit gross metering.

Additionally, the bill requires Maine’s regulators to procure as much os 20 MW of “large-scale community solar distributed generation resources”, but it can only pay no more than six cents per kilowatt-hour or the average wholesale rate for the past 12 months for this, and given the limited output for systems in Maine it is not clear if those numbers will pencil.

Finally, the bill will require regulators to conduct a study of the costs and benefits to ratepayers of both net energy billing and the market-based crediting system and report to the legislature. This could be a sound start for future policies, as the net benefits to all customers of net-metered solar have been upheld by studies across the nation, and  particularly in states like Maine that don’t have much solar online yet.

 

Republican opposition to LePage’s policies

The bill has been co-sponsored by one state senator and seven other state representatives. As an indication of how broadly unpopular the LePage Administration’s solar policies were, like former Governor LePage and Representative O’Connor all eight are members of the Republican Party.

It is unclear how this bill will fare in the Maine House of Representatives in which the Democratic Party gained a greater majority in the last election, and Democrats may have their own ideas about how to reverse Governor LePage’s policies.

Incoming Governor Mills has pledged to put the state on a path to being powered “virtually entirely” by renewable energy and to restore net metering, and Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) notes that there are several other renewable energy bills that they are working on which have not yet been printed.