Gov. Paul Lepage and a narrow band of extreme-right Legislators has slowed solar industry growth for 8 years. In 2018, we have an opportunity to turn things around
A short history of Gov LePage’s relentless attacks on solar:
- 2010 – Rebate money for solar systems through Efficiency Maine is pulled. Solar rebates remain in place for a short period of time thanks to clever work from Efficiency Maine trust, but ultimately all state rebates for solar dry up.
- 2012-2014 – Market forces drop the cost of solar significantly and solar grows in Maine, despite lack of state rebates.
- 2014 – CMP proposes a ‘standby’ fee for solar customers which would kill economics of going solar. There’s a huge grassroots uproar (this was the birth of Solar for ME) and the standby fee proposal goes down in flames. At this time, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) was still 2/3 Gov. Baldacci appointees.
- 2015 – LePage wins re-election and gets to replace the remaining 2 MPUC committee members. Legislature orders MPUC to conduct a “Value of Solar” study.
- 2016 – “Value of Solar” study comes out and finds that solar reduces costs to all Maine ratepayers. Solar advocates hope that the findings of the Value of Solar Study (conducted by a non-partisan professional agency hired by MPUC) shuts down further attacks on solar. This view proves optimistic.
Anticipating a wholesale attack on net metering by the MPUC, a wide coalition of solar advocates, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, municipalities, and the utilities themselves get together to discuss comprehensive solar policy reform. This coalition is united by Tim Schneider, the Public Advocate at the time (whose job is to save all Maine ratepayers money – the job is not represent utility or industry interests). They propose a market-based reform to solar policy, which we nickname “NeXt Metering.”
The bill is a compromise, but one in which both solar installers and utility companies support.The compromise is not good enough for Gov LePage, who exerts every means of political muscle he has against members of the House Republican caucus, ultimately sowing enough doubt that Gov LePage’s veto is upheld by only 2 votes during a veto override.
The same year that the comprehensive solar bill fails, Mainers spend more than $3.7 billion on oil, coal and natural gas imported from outside the state. (https://www.eia.gov/state/
data.php?sid=ME# ConsumptionExpenditures). Among solar’s many benefits, is the ability to keep this money in our local economy.
- 2017 – As expected, the MPUC goes on the offense against solar. With no evidence to support their findings, they propose an egregious rollback to net metering, and worse, propose a worst-in-the-nation policy of robbing solar customers of behind-the-meter production. The program is unfair, arguably illegal, pushes costs on to Maine ratepayers, and proves technically almost impossible to implement. The rule, supposed to be implemented in 2017, is pushed until spring of 2018.
- 2018 – There is vast bipartisan support for a fix to Gross Metering. Almost no one thinks it is good public policy to make Maine ratepayers pay money to install meters for the explicit purpose of stealing money from solar customers and funneling it to the utility company. Sadly, sense is not what is behind policy-making in Augusta. The Governor again vetoes an extremely modest “fix” bill, and after extensive lobbying, a veto override fails by a single vote. It is clear to solar advocates that there are many on the right that will vote against anything with the word ‘solar’ in it for purely ideological reasons, ignoring the benefits of solar which include reducing costs for all Maine ratepayers, creating jobs, and providing opportunities for energy independence.
Why the 2018 Mid-Term Election Matters
To be clear, Solar For ME is not a partisan organization and does not endorse candidates. We have a number of allies in both Major Parties, who understand that solar has a myriad of benefits to offer the state of Maine, such as:
- Economic development opportunities, especially in the more rural areas of the state.
- Jobs, jobs, jobs. The solar workforce will need many trained tradespeople to grows. Those jobs are well-paying and not-outsourceable.
- Cost savings for everyone. The myth keeps being spread that solar passes cost from rich people onto the poor. This is a lie. It is a lie created for the expressed purposes of protecting the interests of for-profit utility companies (who, bluntly, aren’t used to and don’t like competition).
- Energy independence for individuals and the community. Maine towns want solar to reduce long-term operating costs. Individual Mainers want solar to protect themselves from ever-increasing electricity costs. It is in our collective best interest for everyone to be able to self-generate their own power.
Maine remains LAST in New England in terms of installed solar and solar jobs. We can and should do better. Other states, with more solar installed, are saving large amounts of money. Just this past summer, New England’s installed solar fleet saved the region over $20 million of costs during a single heatwave.
In 2018, Maine votes on a new Governor, and many of the rank and file House and Senate candidates. NOW is the opportunity to hold the anti-solar politicians to account, and to vote for those who (regardless of party) will stand with solar and see it as a no-brainer solution to Maine’s economic and environmental challenges.
Where Does My Current Senator / Rep Stand on Solar?
We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of people running for State Legislature and their votes (if any) for or against solar:
Solar Voting Guide
Here are some solar facts worth repeating:
- Solar panels have dropped in cost by 74% since 2003.
- Every 1 kilowatt (~4 panels) of solar added to the grid will provide roughly $4,000 in benefits to all Mainers over 25 years (per Value of Solar).
- Maine’s current solar fleet will save roughly $25,000,000 to all Maine ratepayers over 25 years.
- Maine has plenty of sunshine to make solar viable. Maine receives roughly the same amount of annual solar photovoltaic resource as Houston, Texas (cold weather help solar panels perform better).
And here are some of the common lies propagated by solar, which indicate the Legislator is regurgitating anti-solar talking points:
Solar hurts the poor / elderly / non-solar customers
UNTRUE. Per the Value of Solar study, solar actually saves ratepayers more money than customers receive in benefits. We absolutely agree the low and middle income Mainers should have access to solar. This would be possible if the state would allow the development of solar farms, so that the costs of large-scale solar could be split amongst many customers, and more affordable solar products
Only rich people have solar!
UNTRUE. Ask solar installers who they’re installing systems for. Most are middle-class Mainers who are looking to get control of their energy costs. Solar is especially attractive for people in or approaching retirement, and living on a fixed income (solar reduces their monthly expenses), and for younger families, who are able to finance solar with a loan and swap their electric bill for solar.
Maine isn’t sunny enough for solar!
UNTRUE. Consult NREL data that confirms Maine’s powerful solar resource (a full 33% stronger than Germany, world-leader in solar energy) — or ask any of the 10,000+ people with solar panel arrays in Maine.
What Do I Do Now?
The absolute most important thing you can do, if you want to support solar in Maine, is to get out to vote on Tuesday, November 6th. Tell your friends, neighbors, everyone… Get out… Vote…
The information is available as to how people feel about solar. It does not fall on party lines. But it’s clear if you look at the record, who is a friend and who is a foe of the clean energy future all Mainers deserve.