GOP members fall in line behind governor, reject collaborative comprehensive policy
By Ramona du Houx
Forty-nine House Republicans sided with the governor April 29th and sustained his veto of a historic solar energy bill that would have created hundreds of new clean-energy jobs, increased installation tenfold and reduced electricity costs for all ratepayers.
The vote was 93-50, short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto. LD 1649, An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development, is now dead.
“Too many Republicans fell in line behind the governor today. They turned their backs on Maine workers, Maine’s homegrown solar industry and new investment for Maine,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who sponsored the legislation that created the stakeholder process that led to LD 1649. “An amazing collaborative effort created the opportunity to grow good-paying jobs of the future and modernize our economy. I thank the 12 Republicans who refused to throw that all away and chose good policy over partisan politics.”
LD 1649 would have created 650 new jobs by growing new solar markets, protected 300 existing jobs, increased installation tenfold (from the current 18 megawatts to 196 megawatts) and created between $58 million and $110 million in ratepayer savings. It would have created a comprehensive solar policy for Maine, the only New England state without one. Maine is in last place in the region in solar development and job creation.
“It’s outrageous that 49 Republicans voted to deny Maine job growth, economic development opportunity and lower electricity bills for the families and businesses in their districts,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “This bill was crafted by stakeholders from diverse perspectives and improved through bipartisan legislative cooperation. We needed this jump start for our stagnant economy.”
“This is an extremely disappointing moment for solar power in Maine.” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “It took years of hard work to hash out this broadly-supported solar policy that works for Maine. I’m so proud that Maine people, businesses, towns, and others stood up together to call for Maine to get out of last place on solar and reap the jobs, lower cost electricity, and pollution reductions it brings. Unfortunately the Governor and his allies worked aggressively to thwart the bill at all costs.”
The state currently has roughly 300 solar jobs.
Key features of the bill included:
- Installing 196 MW of solar by 2021, including: 70 MW of residential and small business solar, 36 MW of large community solar, 50 MW of grid-scale (< 5 MW) solar, and 40 MW of commercial/municipal solar. From these categories would have been 8 MW of solar located at agricultural businesses.
- Revising net-metering to become what some are calling “next-metering,” allowing homes and businesses to continue to consume their own solar power and receive bill credits for what they put back onto the grid, but increasing stability.
- Grandfathering customers by allowing them to stay with traditional net-metering or swap to the new program when it is rolled out in 2017.
- Completely lifting the arbitrary limits that are currently in place on community solar, allowing for many types and scales of community solar farms.
- Using market mechanisms to build solar at the lowest price possible, while better capturing the benefits of solar as a clean source of renewable energy that produces power at some peak periods, and returning that value to all ratepayers.
- Incorporating multiple adjustment and review mechanisms, to make sure the program is succeeding with the twin goals of developing solar and lowering electricity costs for all.
LD 1649 was crafted by a stakeholders group made up of Maine’s solar businesses, municipal leaders, environmental groups, Maine’s public advocate and utility companies. After it was crafted by the Energy Committee, Co-chairman Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, and Rep. Norman Higgins, R-Dover-Foxcroft, amended the bill to include additional protections for ratepayers and additional allocations for agricultural solar.
LePage vetoed LD 1649 April 28th after meeting with Gideon. The two had met five times to find a common ground, and Gideon and the stakeholders agreed to accept the governor’s two proposals. LePage then asked for another change that the coalition could not accept because it would harm Maine solar businesses and jeopardize jobs.
In his veto letter, the governor incorrectly states that there are no price caps for long-term contracts. In fact, the existing bill with the Woodsome-Higgins amendment had three different price caps built in: on the prices that the Public Utilities Commission can set for residential solar; on how prices can be adjusted in the future; and on bids the PUC can accept for all the other market segments. In his recent negotiations with Gideon, the governor asked for a cap that would be set after 18 months to the standard offer, currently 6.5 cents per kwh for Central Maine Power, which the bill’s proponents rejected as harmful to nearly all of Maine’s solar installers.
The bill already monetized the value of renewable energy credits and returned that money to all ratepayers to lower their costs. The bill’s proponents had also been willing to include other renewables in the bill.