by Ramona du Houx
On August 2, 2017, the Maine House of Representatives voted to keep Governor LePage’s veto of the solar bill, despite the fact that the bill passed the House and Senate initially by more than a two-thirds super majority.
Seven Republican legislators changed their position from their prior support and today voted to sustain LePage’s veto of the measure. The Senate voted 28-6 to override and the House voted 88-48, falling three votes short of two-thirds.
The vote leaves intact the Maine Public Utilities Commission (P.U.C.) changes to the state’s net metering policy, gradually drawing down incentives and leaving a bigger fight over the net metering to the future.
Net metering allows customers with solar panels to get credits for the times they generate more power than they consume, using those credits for up to a year to reduce their power bills. Those customers get credits worth the full electricity charges and the transmission and distribution charges. Come January of 2018 that ends.
“Gross metering will take effect in January, adding costs and taxing behind-the-meter generation. This expensive, invasive PUC rule helps no one except the corporate monopolies whose profits depend on overbuilding the grid, and has not been tried anywhere in the world,” said Rep. Seth Berry, the House Representative Chair of the Energy Committee. “Today's vote will have serious economic and electoral consequences, but the struggle to support solar in Maine will go on. In the short run, the vote will be very negative for solar jobs in Maine and for all Maine ratepayers.”
Small-scale distributed solar also helps to lower peak power demand, particularly on the hottest summer days, and that allows utilities to defer big transmission and distribution upgrades for which all electricity customers pay.
“The broad coalition of farmers, businesses, solar advocates and others whom we have worked with are committed to making Maine a leader in clean, distributed generation. They are not going away, and neither is the bipartisan majority who voted yes today and will do so under the next Governor as well,” added Rep. Berry.
“Today, too many lawmakers turned their back on jobs of the future for Maine and bowed to pressure from the Governor's office, Central Maine Power (CMP), Emera, and other utility and fossil fuel industry groups from across the nation. They failed to support the small businesses that are struggling to create and sustain jobs from Kittery to Fort Kent, and they ignored the need and desire to transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources," said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “At the strong urging of the governor, lawmakers today voted to raise electric bills, deny Mainers good jobs, generate more pollution, stall Maine’s transition to clean energy, and make it harder for Maine people and businesses to generate their own solar power."
While Maine leads in new wind farm energy production in New England, since 2009, the state remains the bottom of the list for solar power production. This bi-partisian legislation could have been an answer to that problem but the fear of LePage taking Sen. Collins seat in D.C., if she runs for governor, has many Republicans playing it safe.
“This vote allows the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to begin its extreme, nationally unprecedented new tax on self-consumption of power. That’s a bitter pill for a state whose forest products industry has long depended on the right to consume the power they produce without penalty, and bad news for a state trying to catch up on a revolutionary technology that allows every home and business to affordably produce their own power, too," said Sierra Club Maine Director Glen Brand.
NRCM and allies including the Conservation Law Foundation, ReVision Energy, the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, and Insource Renewables, have previously filed a lawsuit in the Maine Supreme Court challenging the PUC’s rule. That case should be decided by the end of the year.
The following legislators voted FOR LD 1504 when it passed, but voted AGAINST it after the governor vetoed the bill:
Rep. Cebra of Naples
Rep. Kinney of Limington
Rep. McElwee of Caribou
Rep. Wadsworth of Hiram
Rep. Seavey of Kennebunkport
Rep. Skolfield of Weld
Rep. Bradstreet of Vassalboro
The full roll-call of votes can be found here: