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  • MPUC's anti-solar rules that would raise rates on solar power users - lawmakers need to take action

     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.

     

  • Maine community and business leaders slam PUC for holding back solar energy jobs

    On October 17, 2016, at a public hearing by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a large crowd of Maine residents, business owners, community leaders, and others gathered to oppose the agency’s proposal to roll back solar power rules called “net metering.”

    The hearing addressed the PUC proposal to phase out net metering, the simple mechanism that makes solar affordable for Maine people and businesses by crediting them for excess electricity they provide to the grid.

                                                  The PUC has proposed new fees on the power that solar customers don’t export to the grid but instead use right at their home or business and, over time, to cut the 1-to-1 bill credit for solar production by more than 50 percent. This would make it less affordable to install solar panels and decrease the amount of solar that will be installed in Maine in coming years.

    Those gathered criticized the PUC proposal as extreme, unfair, and likely even illegal.

    “The failure of the Public Utilities Commission to do the right thing means it is more important than ever for the Maine Legislature to step up and pass a solar bill next session,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Maine people, businesses, and municipalities see solar as an opportunity to lower costs, boost our economy, create jobs, and reduce dependence on dirty fuels. But lack of leadership from too many of our decision-makers leaves Maine in last place regionally in taking advantage of this opportunity.”

    Many speakers called on the Legislature to adopt a pro-solar, pro-jobs policy to get Maine of its current last-place standing in the Northeast.                                                                                

     “The PUC failed to do its job, which was to properly review net metering, and ignored evidence from its own study about the benefits and cost-savings solar brings to everyone in Maine who pays an electric bill,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables in Pittsfield. “As a result, the proposed rule change would not only take Maine in the wrong direction on solar, but it would also mean higher electric bills for Maine ratepayers.”

    While solar power is enjoying enormous growth and feeding rapid job creation across the Northeast and beyond, Maine remains in last place regionally on solar installations and jobs, due to the lack of effective state policy.

    “Dairy farming and dairy processing is an energy-intensive business, and managing our energy costs is important to our bottom line,” said Caitlin Frame, co-owner of The Milkhouse in Monmouth. “Because of this, and our commitment to sustainability, this year we began to explore in earnest the possibility of installing solar to substantially reduce our energy costs and give us a more predictable electricity cost for our business to rely on in the long run. Net metering is a critical component of farms like ours going solar.”

    During the PUC’s so-called “review” of net metering this summer, approximately 4,400 Maine people and organizations submitted comments or signed petitions asking the PUC to leave net metering intact (or make changes that expand its availability). Those comments came from 315 Maine towns. About 300 commenters/signers in support of net metering were from Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, and Franklin counties. Only one citizen submitted a comment to weaken net metering, and they were joined by Central Maine Power and the Governor’s Energy Office. 

    A poll conducted by Critical Insights this month shows that a clear majority (62percent) of Mainers oppose a rollback or “phase out” of net metering, compared to 25 percent who support it. Across every demographic and political subgroup, a majority oppose the move by the PUC, including: Republicans (56%), Independents (62 percent, 2nd Congressional District (59 percent), those with household income less than $50,000 (65 percent), age 65+ (59 percent), and others. 

    “The City of Belfast has invested in municipal solar projects to reduce energy costs and provide long-term financial stability to taxpayers,” said Sadie Lloyd, Assistant Planner with the City of Belfast. “Our systems generate up to 20 percent of the City’s electric bill. Net metering is crucial to municipal solar projects. Without net metering, the City of Belfast would not have installed solar. For this reason we urge the PUC to continue the program.”

    According to its own rules, the PUC was required to “review net energy billing to determine whether it should continue or be modified” because solar installations have reached one percent of the power generated in Maine. During this “review” the PUC, a quasi-judicial agency, gathered no evidence and conducted no analysis that was subject to public scrutiny, despite the fact that commenters repeatedly asked the Commission to complete some analysis of net metering before proposing changes.

     

    “Growing up on a third-generation dairy farm in Albion, I never expected I’d have a job in solar power just down the road in Liberty,” said Holly Noyes, a financial manager at Revision Energy. “I left the state after college so I could pay off my student loans. But I wanted to be back in Maine to get involved with my family’s farm and be a part of the small communities that make Maine a great state. A good job in solar power made that possible. It would be a terrible mistake to risk those jobs instead of taking steps to triple them so other young people like me can live and work here, too.”

    The PUC proposal would make four major changes to existing net metering rules:

    1. Phase out net metering as it currently exists. For new solar customers, this phase-out would reduce what they receive for the solar power they put on the grid by more than half of what they receive today.
    2. Put a new fee on new solar customers for consuming the power they produce right in their own home or business!This new grid tax is hidden behind a new phrase called “nettable energy.” It is analogous to the grocery store charging for food grown in your garden.
    3. Give existing solar customers continued use of traditional net metering for 15 years, after which they would be subject to the two solar rollbacks above, too. No other state has such a short term.
    4. Removes the 10-person limit on community solar farms – however larger solar farms will also be subject to the phase-out of net metering bill credits, so the proposal gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
  • State lawmakers bypass Congress to support 50 percent clean energy by 2030 at Paris Climate Conference

    Kibby wind farm’s community ribbon cutting in Maine’s Western Mts – the farm helps cut carbon pollution while supplying clean energy. Maine, as a part of RGGI, and has helped to lead the battle against carbon pollution. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     By Ramona du Houx

    Over 350 state and local elected officials, representing every state, launched a sign on letter calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent clean energy by 2050, at the Paris Climate Conference. More elected officals are expected to sign on the letter in the coming days.

    “California’s example shows that climate action can be an engine for broadly shared economic prosperity,” ​said California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, as he announced the initiative. ​“By promoting the development of clean energy resources, we are simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and creating jobs that can lift families out of poverty. If Congress won’t act, it’s incumbent on state and local leaders to do the job for them.”

    Former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, Des Moines, Iowa Mayor Frank Cownie, and Falcon Heights Minnesota Council member Beth Mercer-Taylor speak at an international press conference promoting 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2050 at the Paris Climate Conference.

    California, the world’s 7​th largest economy, recently passed legislation to achieve 50 percent clean energy by 2030.

    A number of current and former elected officials organized the initiative including former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, former Councilor and Deputy Town Supervisor Town of Caroline, New York, Dominic Frongillo, and California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz.

    “We organized this initiative to highlight the important work state and local governments are doing to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution, despite many members of Congress who lack the leadership to protect our families and communities,” ​said Cornell du Houx.​

    The announcement focused on the success state and local governments have been achieving in clean energy innovation and implementation.

    "We want the rest of the world to know that the climate-denying, anti-science voices in Congress do not represent America,” s​aid Nick Rathod​, Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange. Innovations at the state level often drive our national policy forward and that is exactly what is happening in the fight against climate change. States are leading the way."

    Maine, as a member of the New England Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), has made great strides combating climate change, and RGGI has earned the state over $70million that has been invested in clean energy initiatives.

    Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine- established during the Baldacci administration. 

    RGGI estimates a return of more than​ $2.9 billion​ in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. California's Cap-and-Trade Program, which started in 2012, generated $969 million in revenue ​for the state through the end of 2014. It is expected to generate $2 billion a year or more in the future.

    The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent. “This proves that we can reduce pollution that’s putting our communities’ health at risk while growing jobs and prosperity. From East Coast to West Coast — states and local communities are leading the way,” said Katz.

    This year, the United States has hit many clean energy milestones. America has added more clean power than ​natural ​gas, with clean energy generation up​ 11 percent​ while natural gas generation declined. During this time, jobs​ in the solar power industry grew 20 times faster than the rest of the economy.

    The transition to renewables creates jobs and opportunities.

    “Our region used to be coal country, and now is powered by 40 percent wind. That's the future that cities and states are creating,” s​aid Des Moines, IA Mayor Frank Cownie. “Where there used to be 23 coal mines 100 years ago in and around the city, now we are building a green space corridor and new industries. It's time for cities, states, the United States and the world to aggressively commit to creating a better, clean energy future."

    California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz, California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, West Palm Beach, FL Mayor Jeri Muoio, and Des Moines, IA Mayor Frank Cownie speak at an international press conference promoting 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2050 at the Paris Climate Conference. 

    When Congress has been gridlocked over how to combat climate change local communities have taken on the challenge.

    “Cities and states are on the front lines of climate change. As sea levels rise, our city is in danger,” ​said West Palm Beach, FL Mayor Jeri Muoio​. “To protect our future, and lead by example, we have made a commitment to power all our city vehicles without fossil fuels.”

    People in every state are beginning to understand that too many members of Congress are trying to obstruct the President’s clean energy initiatives. 

    “The political will to act on climate change exists in every state, and community. But it has been drowned out with millions of dollars dirty energy companies spend sowing doubt and denial. Right now, Exxon-Mobil is under investigation for misleading shareholders, and the American people,” ​said Frongillo​. “We need elected officials to lead a fair and swift transition to 100 percent clean energy.”

    Climate change has been at the root of many conflicts around the world. Sometimes, civil unrest breaks out, which too often has led to war.

    “A recent ​Pew study ​found ISIL , or Daesh, and climate change are seen as the top two global threats — and the two are interlinked. As a former Marine and now naval officer, I have seen this link firsthand. Instability caused by extreme weather helps terrorists like Daesh recruit fighters — Syria’s unusually​ severe drought​ helped trigger that conflict, ”said Cornell du Houx.​ ​“We need to protect our nation, and the world, from the real threats caused by climate change.”

    The initiative also supports the implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, as it will bring the U.S. within seven percent of the stated goal.

    “We appreciate the administration’s leadership and commitment to working with state and local government,” said Cornell du Houx.​ “The launch of this letter is only the beginning. We will be working with state and local elected officials across America to ensure a healthier and safer future for our children. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must take action now.”

    So far, in Maine, these elected officials have signed on to the letter. More are expected to sign, soon:

     David Miramant, State Senator, ME

    Ryan Tipping-Spitz, State Representative, ME

    Roberta Beavers, State Representative, ME

     Margaret Rotundo, State Representative, ME

     Michael Devin, State Representative, ME

     Brian Hubbell, State Representative, ME

    Deane Rykerson, State Representative, ME

    Pinny Beebe-Center, State Representative, ME

    James Davitt, State Representative, ME

     Richard Farnsworth, State Representative, ME

     Joyce McCreight, State Representative, ME

     Chuck Kruger, State Representative, ME

     Christine Burstein, State Representative, ME 

    Anne-Marie Mastraccio, State Representative, ME

     Linda Sanborn, State Representative, ME

     Denise Tepler, State Representative, ME

     The letter:

    Dear President Obama:

    We, the undersigned local and state elected officials, strongly support the goal to achieve more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030, putting us on the path to 100 percent clean energy sources by 2050.

    This is a necessary and achievable goal. With the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the EPA estimates that the United States will increase our current generation of clean energy by 30 percent. This means we are already on track to generate 43 percent clean energy by 2030 by effectively implementing the Obama Administration’s policies. We appreciate the administration’s leadership supporting clean energy—and with additional leadership at the federal, state, and local levels, our country will successfully reach the 50 percent by 2030 goal.

    Clean energy is an American success story. It is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the United States and already provides 360,000 jobs. The solar industry alone employs 143,000 people—more individuals than work in coal mines—and grew 20 percent in 2014. Last year a new solar project was installed every 2.5 minutes.

    Transitioning to clean energy isn’t just the smart choice for growing our economy—it keeps our families healthy. According to the American Lung Association, almost half of Americans live in places where pollution levels are too often dangerous to breathe. By transitioning to clean energy, we can clear the air and reduce the health risks of pollution.

    The time to act is now. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000, and 2014 was the warmest ever recorded. Our communities are already feeling the growing costs of increased number of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts, and flooding. According to NOAA, the frequency of billion-dollar storm-related disasters has increased five percent each year since 1980.

    In Paris, the United States and our global partners will offer concrete targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change. However, true success in Paris—and in the days, weeks and months that follow—will come down to America’s willingness to build on the momentum from the UN talks and continue to lead the world by implementing clean energy solutions.

    States, cities and businesses are already paving the way with clean energy solutions that are substantially and cost-effectively transitioning our country away from dirty fossil fuels and towards clean sources like wind and solar. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must protect our communities from the dangers of climate change.

    To ensure our economic prosperity, to protect our health and children, and to ensure our security and safety, we need to act now to transition our country to more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030.

    Very Respectfully,

     350 state and local elected officials