Maine House takes first steps to undo gross metering

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As the first legislative session following the replacement of former Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) with Janet Mills (D), the legislature is wasting no time in reversing the former administration’s idiosyncratic policies.

And one of the first items on the chopping block is gross metering, the system implemented by LePage-appointed regulators that sets valuation for the entire output of a PV system, whether or not this electricity is consumed on site.

On Tuesday, the Main House gave its initial approval of LD 91, whose cut-to-the-chase title is “An Act to Eliminate Gross Metering”, via a 93-48 vote. The bill text is also quite straightforward, and would order state regulators to return to net metering for solar customers under the rules in effect on January 1, 2017, before the implementation of gross metering.

The vote taken was a procedural vote, and the House will need to vote on the bill again. This is an important distinction, as LD 91 was introduced as an emergency bill, to be enacted as soon as it is signed by the governor. Emergency bills require a 2/3 majority which the 93-48 vote would not provide, but if the bill’s supporters can bring in seven more votes – perhaps among the eight representatives who missed this vote – then it goes forward as an emergency bill.

From there it would also require a 2/3 majority in the Maine Senate, which the Portland Press-Herald says is more difficult. Regardless, the bill should pass the Democrat-controlled Senate in some form, and will likely be signed into law by Governor Mills, who has expressed support for rooftop solar and an intention to put the state on a path to be powered “virtually entirely” by renewable energy.

 

Just gross

LePage’s regulators had already reversed gross metering for mid-sized and large customers like factories and large businesses, after being confronted with evidence that the cost of installing the meters to measure electricity produced and consumed on-site actually imposed a net cost to all ratepayers, even after any savings from essentially taxing other solar customers was factored in.

In this session, there have already been bills to overturn the entire policy. Eight Republican members of Maine’s Legislature had earlier introduced LD 41, which would have also reversed gross metering, but would have excess electricity generated by PV systems compensated at a wholesale rate, much lower than the retail-rate net metering that this bill would return the state to.

LD 41 is still stuck in committee. Here, it is important to note the majority of the Maine Legislature’s members are Democrats, and unlike LD 41, LD 91 has been introduced by members of the majority party. Furthermore, LD 91 was introduced by Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), who previously served as majority leader, and it is likely that he still has some pull.