Solar Energy bill becomes law without Gov. LePage’s signature

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 24th, 2014 

ReVison Energy installs solar car battery chargers like this one at their headquarters in Portland. Photo by Ramona du Houx

ReVison Energy installs solar car battery chargers like this one at their headquarters in Portland. Photo by Ramona du Houx

A solar energy bill that passed through the legislature with overwhelming support became law without his Governor Paul LePage’s signature.

“For a decade lawmakers have worked together in a bipartisan manner to move Maine’s energy policy forward, and we continue to do so with this law,” said Democratic Senator Eloise VItelli of Arrowsic, the sponsor of the bill.“Maine is one of the most oil-dependent states in the country. This law will give the people in our state an opportunity to do something about that.”

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

For the first time, Maine will have specific goals in law for increasing the use of solar energy. These new statutory goals for solar energy include: ensuring that solar energy provides energy that benefits all ratepayers regardless of income level; increasing the number of businesses and residences using solar technology as an energy resource; and increasing the State’s workforce engaged in the manufacturing and installation of solar technology.

The new law also directs the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the benefits and costs of solar so that policymakers have good information about the quantifiable value of solar energy for Maine homeowners and businesses.

“This is good news for our economy, clean air, and Maine’s efforts to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. This new law establishes that Maine values the role of solar power as a part of our energy mix, and is determined to capture more of the benefits that solar energy can provide to Maine residents and businesses,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Project Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The bill, introduced by Senator Vitelli, was worked on intensively by the Energy, Utilities and Transportation committee over five weeks of work sessions, earning a unanimous committee vote and overwhelming support by the House and Senate.

Even the Director of the Governor’s Energy Office, Patrick Woodcock, worked with the committee on the bill. The committee listened to his input and his requested amendments, which played a major role in garnering strong bipartisan legislative support and enabling the bill to become law.

The governor vetoed an earlier bill to re-establish a solar energy rebate program created by the Baldacci administration. Lawmakers fell just two votes short of overriding that veto in the Senate.

“Solar energy is a clean, renewable, local and abundant energy resource, one that creates good paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. Solar energy is booming in neighboring states as prices fall and the benefits of installing solar increase,” said Voorhees. “The bill was supported by businesses and homeowners across the state who believe that the power of the sun must be part of Maine’s energy future. Solar energy can become a growing part of Maine’s strategy to create a sustainable economy and achieve affordable and stable electric rates. This new law represents an important step forward.”

Background:

LD 1652 establishes broad goals on solar energy for Maine for the first time. The bill establishes the goals of (among others): increasing the amount of solar in Maine on the roofs of homes and businesses, and ensuring that solar energy makes a meaningful contribution to the electric grid and Maine’s energy independence and reduced oil usage.

Importantly, LD 1652 places the following legislative findings into Maine law:

  • The Legislature finds that it is in the public interest to develop renewable energy resources, including solar energy, in a manner that protects and improves the health and well-being of the citizens and natural environment of the State while also providing economic benefits to communities, ratepayers and the overall economy of the State.
  • The Legislature finds that the solar energy resources of the State constitute a valuable indigenous and renewable energy resource and that solar energy development, which is unique in its benefits to and impacts on the climate and the natural environment, can make a contribution to the general welfare of the citizens of the State for the following reasons:
  • Solar energy is an energy resource that does not rely on fossil fuel combustion and therefore it can displace energy provided by that source and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • There is an inexhaustible supply of solar energy throughout the State that should be used cost-effectively for heat and electricity using current technology.