Lawmakers could stop extreme anti-solar rules, save ratepayers money and help grow jobs
By Ramona du Houx
The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by over 50 percent in 2016, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.
New solar photovoltaic capacity installed reached more than 76 gigawatts just within 2016.
Most of the increases took place in the US and China. Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.
The dramatic shift in installment has a lot to do with technological advances in the industry coupled with the urgency the climate change threat poses to the world. Add that to the fact — it makes business sense to install solar power as it save consumers and businesses money — and you have a clear path forward for the solar power industry.
But there is one hitch in Maine—the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC’s) new net metering rules include some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation. They will go into effect at the end of the year if the Legislature fails to put a stop to the onerous rules that would make rate payers with solar installments pay more.
“Under the PUC’s extreme anti-solar rules, for the first time utilities would charge Maine homes and businesses for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “In the wake of the PUC’s decision, it is essential that Maine lawmakers pass an effective bill that overturns these rules and puts Maine on track to increase our production and use of solar power. But, if allowed to take effect, these new rules will threaten existing and potential new jobs and guarantee that we remain in last place in New England for solar jobs and energy production.”
Rep. Seth Berry in 2008 at work in the Maine House of Representatives. Photo by Ramona du Houx
In an expensive new requirement, new solar customers will be forced to install, and ratepayers will pay for, an extra meter for their solar panels — forcing them to pay utilities a fee for solar power they generate, power that never will enter the electricity grid.
“This rulemaking only underscores the need for the legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future,” said Rep. Seth Berry, who is the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “The finalized rule by the MPUC takes us in the wrong direction by making major and disruptive changes — despite overwhelming public input regarding risks to our energy and jobs markets.”
Studies show that solar power delivers valuable benefits to society, the environment and all energy users. Solar is pollution-free, has no fuel cost and eliminates the need for dirty power plants and expensive transmission lines.
“Clean renewable energy sources are the best pathway our state has to lower energy prices, create more good-paying jobs and lesson our carbon footprint,” said Rep. Berry.
The MPUC failed to conduct any costs and benefits analysis of this new net metering, so they cannot say with any authority whether these rules will help or harm ratepayers. However, previous studies by the MPUC clearly indicate that increased use of distributed solar in Maine leads to lower electric rates.
"This rulemaking only underscores the need for the Legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future. We urge the legislature to act swiftly to restore good solar policy for Maine’s future," said Environment Maine campaigns director Laura Dorle.
The best and swiftest solution is for the Legislature to enact an effective law to move Maine forward this session, before these extreme rules take effect at the end of 2017.
“The Legislature should be setting solar policy in Maine, not the MPUC. With others, NRCM is also likely to file a ‘motion for reconsideration’ with the PUC, giving them one last chance to set aside these extreme changes,” said Voorhees.
The Office of the Public Advocate, which represents ratepayers, testified last year that it had “significant concerns with the rules,” noting they “include provisions that are unclear, unworkable, and potentially unlawful.”
Public opposition to this policy included more than 4,000 comments received by the MPUC. Polling shows that a strong majority of Mainers from all counties and political affiliations oppose this rollback.