Maine's solar power law will generate stability, jobs and investment in the industry

By Ramona du Houx

Maine currently ranks last place in New England in solar energy development and solar energy jobs. LD 1711 will deliver a comprehensive reboot to Maine’s solar policies and reduce barriers that are preventing more Mainers from accessing clean, affordable solar power.

A diverse group of businesses, towns, and clean energy advocates worked together to advance LD 1711 in order to establish much needed regulatory predictability for the solar industry and the use of competitive markets to reduce energy costs for Mainers. Related bills have previously been supported by the Legislature over the past few years but did not become law over the objections of former Maine Governor LePage. Like earlier versions, the bill is designed to maximize benefits to ratepayers while making it easier for to invest in solar, especially for commercial and municipal energy consumers. The majority of those bills were proposed by Rep. Seth Berry House chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities, but were killed by LePage’s veto power.

 “On a sunny afternoon with solar power at full capacity, yet generating less than 1 percent of New England’s electricity — the Maine House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of what may be the biggest policy win for solar and other distributed renewables in Maine history, said Rep. Berry. “This law will create jobs, energy independence, investment, increased access to renewables and choice. If you’re looking to go solar in Maine, whether it’s a rooftop array, a solar farm, or a grid-scale solar field, do it now.”

 Maine's solar power law will generate stability, jobs and investment in the industry.

“Mainers overwhelmingly support the transition to clean energy because they know it will help reduce energy costs, create new jobs, and reduce our reliance on costly fossil fuels,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This moment has been a long-time coming. Maine has fallen behind on solar as the improvements in technology outpaced our outdated policies. We have failed to reap the benefits of solar that many other states have been receiving, but that is about to change.”

LD 1711 will:

  • Create more than 500 new jobs, establish much needed regulatory predictability for the solar industry to take off, and use a competitive market process to reduce costs.
  • Accelerate the development of more than 400 megawatts of distributed solar power to serve residents, businesses, and towns across the state. Distributed generation makes the electric grid more resilient and gives consumers more choices for their energy needs.
  • Grow the development of community solar farms, a cost-effective solution that would allow Mainers to buy into solar energy if they can’t place panels on their homes. The bill enables the development of larger-scale community solar farms that could power more than 45,000 homes, and lifts an arbitrary nine-person limit that has been holding back new community solar projects across Maine.

“Building out distributed generation assets around the state, owned by Maine businesses and employing Maine residents, means we are exporting fewer dollars out of our economy,” said John Egan, Chief Investment Officer, Coastal Enterprises, Inc. “Increased renewable and distributed capacity here means we are more resilient to damage caused by climate change.”

Towns across Maine are beginning to harness the power of solar to reduce the burden of energy costs on taxpayers and transition away from carbon-polluting energy sources. As prices for solar have dropped 47 percent in the last five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, those towns have experienced thousands of dollars in energy cost savings by transitioning to solar. Expanding the amount of “distributed solar generation” in Maine also has the potential to lower electricity costs for everyone by bringing more clean energy generation into the regional electric grid at the local level.

“Many municipalities in Maine are eager and ready to adopt solar energy,” said City of South Portland Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach. “We support LD 1711 because it will provide a strong, predictable pathway for projects and the benefits – including lower energy costs, cleaner air, and greenhouse gas reductions – will benefit a broad distribution of Maine people.”

The bill also puts a premium on predictability and competitive markets, a move that would send a signal to businesses and financial institutions to invest in solar, and further encourage the solar industry to expand and create jobs here in Maine.

“With Maine’s high asthma rates and growing Lyme disease rates, this bill presents an opportunity for Maine to increase the use of clean energy and reduce greenhouse gases to help prevent illness and injury from the impacts of climate change,” said Karen D’Andrea, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine Chapter.

The bill had broad support from organizations across the state as diverse as the Maine Municipal Association, Associated General Contractors, and the Environmental Priorities Coalition.