Maine lawmakers approve solar bill for clean energy, job creation but LePage vetoes it

By Ramona du Houx

When An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy becomes law it will sustain 300 jobs that already exist in Maine’s solar industry and create 650 to 800 new jobs. This solar energy bill will also increase the state’s utilization of clean, renewable solar energy, and lower electric rates.

“LD 1649 has the potential to add an additional 800 new, good-paying jobs across the state,” said Chuck Piper, co-owner of Sundog Solar of Searsport. “One of the many great things about the solar bill is we can create these new jobs without any additional expense to the citizens of Maine.”

In addition the measure, crafted through painstaking compromise, would add 196 megawatts of solar capacity to the state’s energy portfolio and $500 million in investment to Maine’s economy over the next several years.

The groundbreaking law was the result of stakeholders working together over many months, including Maine’s Public Advocate-whose job mandates he looks out for ratepayer interests, and representatives from Maine’s solar industry, utility companies, municipalities, Maine conservation groups, and legislators.

Maine is currently last in the region in solar development and job creation because of antiquated policies. “This bill will make Maine a leader in solar energy policy and create hundreds of jobs for Maine people, who will build our clean energy future one panel at a time,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Energy Committee.

LD 1649 modernizes parts of Maine’s utility policy that created unfair barriers to towns, cities, businesses, and communities going solar, and ensures solar producers are reimbursed fairly for the power they produce and sell to the electric grid.

The law ensures municipalities, neighborhoods and other groups of individuals the right to band together for solar production — allowing regular people to “go green” together, even if they can’t do it alone. 

“Solar is an opportunity to marry emerging technology with economic development at the local level,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chair of the committee. “Solar is going to be an energy technology that will both serve us now and into the 22nd century.” 

Community solar projects are on the rise across the USA and in Maine. The most recent community project is in Freeport, where ReVison Maine worked with residents and the town to make it happen.

The bill was amended before it passed the Senate unanimously. 

As amended by Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, the bill adds 196 megawatts of solar power to the state’s energy portfolio over four years. The amendment also introduced additional protections for ratepayers.

The bill is estimated to create between $58 million and $110 million in ratepayer savings.

The bill was vetoed by Governor LePage's desk on April 28th.

UPDATE:

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.”