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Maine Solar Bill Proposes to Expand Capacity Without Net Metering

On March 10, the Maine Legislature's Energy, Utilities & Technology Committee reported out a bill that is the culmination of the solar stakeholder process at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The bill sets a target of developing 248 MW of new solar capacity over a five-year period beginning in 2017. The bill defines four categories of solar power development in Maine: grid-scale, large-scale community, commercial and industrial, and residential and small business.

As previously explained here, the most controversial aspect of the new legislation is that it would end net metering (AKA "net energy billing") for rooftop solar. During the solar stakeholder process at the PUC, a compromise consensus emerged among the utilities, the solar industry, environmental groups, and the Office of the Public Advocate, which represents ratepayers in Maine. Under the compromise, new rooftop solar customers would enter into 20-year contracts with the "standard solar buyer" (most likely the customer's T&D utility). Customers would receive a set contract rate per kilowatt hour of solar electricity sold to the standard solar buyer. The contract rate, which will be set by the PUC, will decrease over time as solar installations increase to meet the bill's targets for new capacity. In addition, customers with rooftop solar will be able to offset their own consumption on an hourly or other basis determined by the customer's utility. The bill would preserve net metering for existing customers for twelve years, and it instructs that net metering will be reinstated if the new program fails to achieve the new capacity targets set by the bill.

Maine is one of a number of states across the country reviewing net metering rules. Many of these rule changes are hotly contested, with utilities pushing to end or limit net metering while solar advocates staunchly defend it as essential to the future of the industry. Maine's bill appears to be unique in that it involves a compromise that would end net metering that is nevertheless supported by many of the environmental groups and solar groups that participated in the stakeholder process. If successful, Maine's program could be a model for other states considering changes to net metering programs.

Despite the broad consensus among stakeholders, Governor LePage recently signaled that he opposes the bill because it would still result in subsidies for solar at the expense of other ratepayers. With the Governor opposed, the bill will need veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate to secure passage. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for March 16 and a work session is scheduled for March 17. Watch this blog for updates.

Topics: Electricity, Renewable Energy