Environmentalists and energy experts back bill to establish Maine solar energy goals

By Ramona du Houx -January 22nd, 2014 

Installing solar panels in Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

Installing solar panels in Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

Environmental advocates, energy experts, and business owners testified in favor of a bill to support solar energy development in Maine.

“Maine is the only state in New England without a solar incentive program and because of this we are missing out on an important opportunity to increase access to energy, protect our environment, and strengthen our economy,” said Democratic Senator Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic, the sponsor of the bill. “The sun is the most abundant energy source on the planet and we would do well to take advantage of it.”

In 2005 Governor John Baldacci and the legislature passed a law to provide rebates for solar panels. The funding for the rebates ran out last year as the LePage administration was against them.

The cost of solar panels has plummeted by 75 percent in the last five years. In the USA, last year solar made up nearly 20 percent of all new energy capacity, making solar the second largest source of new energy capacity. Also last year, for the first time in fifteen years, in 2013 the US installed more solar panels than Germany. Solar has arrived as a mainstream energy source.

“In the third quarter of 2013, 930 megawatts (MW) of solar power were installed in the United States, with an estimated total for 2013 of 5,000 MW of new solar power. That’s the equivalent of five nuclear power plants of new solar added last year. In May of last year, solar panels in Germany (mostly on rooftops) were generating as much power during warm daytime hours as 20 nuclear power plants operating at full capacity. And across New England, well over 200 MW of solar was installed in 2013,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Senator Vitelli’s bill encourages solar energy development in Maine by establishing state solar energy generation goals, 40MW by 2016, and 200MW by 2020. The measure also would create opportunities for the promotion and generation of solar energy development within existing programs and initiatives like the Small Enterprise Growth Program, MTI, Maine Rural Development Authority, FAME, and Department of Economic Development. The state does have a goal for how much alternative energy usage. Vitelli’s bill is specifically for solar.

“This measure is one step toward getting Maine on track with the rest of the nation in developing plentiful and cost-effective energy for homeowners and businesses,” said Vitelli.

Maine spends $5 billion per year importing fossil fuels and is the most petroleum-dependent state for home heating, with more than 70 percent of households using it as their primary heating source.

“Mainers deserve a chance to generate their own power in an accessible way. As Mainers, we are an independent bunch–we don’t like to be so dependent on out-of-state energy corporations–and we don’t need to be,” added Senator Vitelli. “Solar power is a resource we have everywhere in Maine, from our rural towns to our downtown service centers.”

According to a 2010 report, rooftop solar panels alone could provide 24 percent of Maine’s electricity.

“Solar creates the opportunity for ordinary Maine people to produce their own power in an affordable way, no matter what town or county they live in. Maine people deserve an affordable, accessible and fair way to take control of their power with rooftop solar. Although our investor-owned utilities would like to limit and control our ability to expand solar, it is clearly in the public interest to move forward,” said Voorhees.

Solar power would also strengthen Maine’s economy. Research suggests that for the same amount of energy, solar power creates 55-80 times more jobs than natural gas.with an estimated 45 companies and 270 direct jobs (which likely support over 300 indirect jobs.

“Like Maine’s other rich natural resources like water, wind, and wood, the sun too is a renewable natural resource that we all have access to,” said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, who is a co-sponsor of the bill and also serves on the Legislature’s Energy and Utility committee. “By embracing next-generation renewable technologies, Maine’s economy can grow and energy costs be can lowered today and in to the future.”

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Senator Jim Boyle of Gorham and Senator Rebecca Millet of Cape Elizabeth, both of whom testified in support of the measure at today’s public hearing.