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  • Despite massive support for solar energy bill LePage's veto stands as GOP abandons clean energy jobs in Maine

    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.

  • President Obama's solar energy job program will provide jobs to 50,000 veterans

    by Ramona du Houx

    A six-year Obama program has been launched this fall to train veterans in the growing solar panel installation industry, addressing climate change and jobs for veterans. The program has started on American military bases, and will provide training for at least 50,000 veterans.

    The initiative will not only train our veterans in an industry that is taking off and is on track to be the largest producer of energy in the world by 2050, but solar installations at military bases will save billions of dollars in energy costs for the Defense Department.

    In addition to the veterans program, the Department of Agriculture will fund $70 million in solar and renewable energy projects in rural and farm areas.

    The Department of Energy is also proposing new efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners, which will result in substantial cuts in emissions and provide businesses sizable savings on energy costs.

    In October 2015, the Energy Department announced a program that will spend $53 million for research and development of projects that will drive down the cost of solar energy.

     Governor John Baldacci turns on the switch that started his solar panel tax rebate program in 2006. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    ReVision Energy of Maine has installed some of the largest solar arrays in Maine. The company proclaims that the state is well suited for more solar energy panels as Maine gets the same amount of sun, yearly, as Florida.

    In Maine, Governor John Baldacci started a solar panel tax rebate, which was a huge success, only to be stopped by Governor LePage.

    While Republicans in Congress have obstructed the President’s plans for aggressive alternative energy subsidies Obama has been able to achieve milestones with executive actions, like this solar program.

    Solar energy taking off around the world-

    In Germany every home and business is mandated, with government subsidies, to have a solar panel.

    Between the tropics and probably as far as the 33rd parallel, the sun could soon be a major source of energy for households and businesses.

    Countries such as Mexico and Indonesia, long dependent on cheap home-produced oil and coal, are realising that a solar panel on every roof can reduce poverty by lowering energy costs as well as minimising the destabilising weather effects from higher CO2 emissions.

    As the International Energy Agency (IEA) says in its World Energy Outlook 2015, the tumbling cost of installing photovoltaics, as much as a commitment to limiting climate change, is persuading these countries to switch to renewables. It predicts a cumulative $7.4trn global investment in renewable energy by 2040.

    Indonesia has forged ahead by limiting investment subsidies that have underpinned coal, oil and gas production for decades. China is also beginning to make the switch to renewables while moving away from dirty, energy-intensive industries.

    The result, says the IEA, could limit the demand for oil and keep the price relatively low for the rest of the decade.

     

  • New Obama initiative to increase solar access for all Americans

     

    by Ramona du Houx

    The Obama Administration on July 7,2015 announced a new initiative to increase access to solar energy for all Americans, in particular low- and moderate- income communities, while expanding opportunities to join the solar workforce. 

    Last year, the United States brought online as much solar energy every three weeks as it did in all of 2008, and the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.  And since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system has dropped by 50 percent.  The executive actions and private sector commitments that we are announcing today will help continue to scale up solar for all Americans, including those who are renters, lack the startup capital to invest in solar, or do not have adequate information on how to transition to solar energy. 

    The key components of the initiative that the Administration announced today are:

    • Launching a National Community Solar Partnership to unlock access to solar for the nearly 50 percent of households and business that are renters or do not have adequate roof space to install solar systems, including issuing a guide to Support States In Developing Community Solar Programs;
    • Setting a goal to install 300 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing and providing technical assistance to make it easier to install solar, including clarifying how to use Federal funding;
    • Housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, power companies, and organizations in more than 20 states across the country are committing to put in place more than 260 solar energy projects, including projects to help low- and moderate- income communities save on their energy bills and further community solar; and
    • More than $520 million in independent commitments from philanthropic and impact investors, states, and cities to advance community solar and scale up solar and energy efficiency for low- and moderate- income households.

    To continue enhancing employment opportunities for all Americans in the solar industry, the Administration announced the following executive actions and private sector commitments, including:

    • AmeriCorps funding to deploy solar and create jobs in underserved communities;
    • Expanding solar energy education and opportunities for job training; and
    • The solar industry is also setting its own, independent goal of becoming the most diverse sector of the U.S.  energy industry, and a number of companies are announcing that they are taking steps to build a more inclusive solar workforce. 

    These new actions build on President Obama’s goal to train 75,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020 and the Solar Ready Vets program that will train transitioning military personnel for careers in the solar industry at 10 military bases. 

     

    EXECUTIVE ACTIONS TO SCALE UP SOLAR AND DECREASE ENERGY BILLS

     

    • Setting A Goal To Install 300 Megawatts Of Renewable Energy in Federally Subsidized Housing: In the Climate Action Plan, the President set a goal of installing 100 megawatts (MW) of solar and other types of renewable energy in Federally subsidized housing.   The Administration has already surpassed that goal, through commitments to install more than 185 MW of renewable energy.    Today, we are announcing that the Administration is tripling its current goal and setting a new goal to install 300 MW of renewable energy on affordable by 2020, as well as expanding the goal to include community and shared solar installations.

     

    • Providing Technical Assistance to Make It Easier to Install Solar on Affordable Housing: One of the largest barriers to deploying onsite solar on affordable housing is the lack of knowledge on how to initiate the process.  To overcome this barrier, the U.S.  Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is announcing that it will offer direct technical assistance to affordable housing organizations making a commitment toward the Administration’s new 300 MW goal.  As part of this assistance, HUD is launching a website to provide policy guidance, tools, and other online resources to help advance solar deployment and the installation of other renewable energy in affordable housing. 

     

    • Developing a Toolkit to Increase the Ability of States to Use Federal Funding to Deploy Solar on Affordable Housing: To make it easier to use Section 108 Community Development Block Grant funds for solar energy systems, next month, HUD is releasing a renewable energy toolkit for use by Community Planning and Development (CPD) grantees.  The toolkit will provide program compliance information, tools, and case study examples to help communities integrate renewable energy components such as solar photovoltaic, solar hot water, and cogeneration into the program in an efficient, cost-effective, and impactful way by using CPD funds.  This action builds on an announcement last year during which, HUD’s CPD office affirmed that under current guidelines, Section 108 Community Development Block Grant funding can be used for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. 

     

    • Enhancing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA)’s PowerSaver Policy to Make It Easier to Borrow Up To $25,000 For Solar and Energy-Efficient Improvements FHA is planning updates to its second-mortgage program that will make it easier for homeowners to borrow up to $25,000 for solar and energy-efficient improvements by cutting red tape and making improvements more affordable.  Key features of the second mortgage program will include: 1) providing flexible underwriting to recognize the reduced cost of utilities for energy efficient homes; 2) allowing homeowners to control the disbursement of loan funds to the contractor; and 3) permitting contributions to lower out-of-pocket expenses and/or reduce borrower interest rates.  

     

    • Clarifying Policy to Pave the Way for Increased FHA Solar and Energy Efficient Financing on Federally Assisted and Insured Housing.  FHA recently clarified its policy on first mortgages to allow flexible financing options and the ability to obtain larger loan amounts for solar systems.   FHA is conducting forums on the updated Single Family Handbook to help increase lender awareness of these financing options, which will be effective September 14, 2015.

     

    • Launching a National Community Solar Partnership: The U.S.  Department of Energy (DOE) in collaboration with HUD, the U.S.  Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), representatives from solar companies, NGOs, and state and community leaders are launching a National Community Solar Partnership to unlock access to solar for the nearly 50 percent of households and business that are renters or do not have adequate roof space to install solar systems.  The partnership will leverage the interest in the public and private sector to expand access to community solar, in particular, for low- and moderate- income communities, while utilizing the technical expertise of DOE and the National Laboratories. 

     

    • Issuing A Guide To Support States In Developing Community Solar Programs: The DOE SunShot Initiative and the National Renewable Energy Lab are releasing a new guide, which answers key program design questions collected from states that have implemented shared solar policies and programs around the country.  The guide will also explain how shared solar polices work in conjunction with other polices and provides links to relevant shared solar publications. 

     

    • Launching a Solar Working Group To Save Households on Their Energy Bills: The DOE SunShot Initiative, with assistance from Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is forming a new working group to disseminate information to new homebuilders that want to offer customer-owned solar PV.