The solar future is coming, but Maine is currently lagging behind.
- Since 2006, the solar market has grown about 76% per year.
- In 2014, 32% of new electricity generation came from solar.
- Nearly 645,000 U.S. homes and businesses have gone solar, and in 2014 a new solar project was installed every 2.5 minutes.
Solar has the unique ability to revitalize our economy, improve consumer choice, and benefit all electricity ratepayers. Yet, despite this, Maine has failed to adopt a comprehensive policy to support solar and currently has no state-level policies to support solar.
How Does Solar Support the Economy?
- Maine is falling far behind the region in solar jobs per capita, but we have many solar companies that are ready and eager to grow more and faster.
- Over 3,000 solar jobs are created each and every month in the US. This represents 3% of all professional and construction jobs created in the country.
- One in 78 new jobs created last year were solar jobs.
- In 2005, there were 15,000 solar jobs. There are now more than 200,000 solar jobs.
- There are 8,000 solar businesses in the U.S. All 50 states have employees in the industry.
- Rooftop solar creates well paying local jobs that cannot be outsourced.
How Does Solar Support Consumers?
For over 100 years, utility companies have enjoyed a monopoly on the sale of electricity. This model has resulted in the creation of a large, centralized power grid, which made sense 50 years ago, but no longer does in the 21st century. Rooftop solar power is one of the first major threats to the utility model of solar, by offering the consumer the ability to generate their own electricity on-site to power all aspects of modern life – appliances, computing, heating, cooling, even transportation (thanks to electric cars).
By investing in solar, a homeowner, business, nonprofit organization, or municipality, can lock in a rate for electricity for 25+ years, without being subject to increasing electricity rate hikes which are a reality of being connected with the electricity grid.
What is Happening with the PUC?
Earlier this year, the Maine legislature passed a ‘Resolve’ sponsored by Rep Sarah Gideon (LD1263), which instructed the Maine PUC to convene a stakeholder group to consider options for advancing solar policy in Maine. The ‘Resolve’ was supported by a diverse group of stakeholders including environmental advocates, solar companies, the Public Advocate, as well as the State’s two invester owned distribution utilities, CMP and Emera. With this broad base of support, the resolve passed with broad bipartisan backing. Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoed the bill, but it received enough votes to override the Governor’s veto.
The Maine Public Utility Commission (PUC) is now working with those stakeholders and others to develop policy proposals that would increase the adoption of solar power in Maine, and would do so in a way that maximizes benefits for ALL Maine people and the economy. The stakeholder group has been meeting and working hard on these proposals for the last several months with the goal of reporting back policy recommendations to the next legislature in January 2016. Though many of the details of the proposals are not yet finalized, there are reasons to be optimistic about the outcome.
A diverse coalition of solar supporters —including businesses, workers, universities, municipal governments, public health groups, conservationists, and clean energy activists—is urging the PUC and lawmakers to build on what’s already working with effective new approaches.
Specifically, advocates agree the legislature should build upon the state’s existing, customer-friendly approach for homes (“net metering”) by:
- Setting specific 5-year targets for installed solar
- Lift limits on and expand opportunities for community solar
- Establish effective market-based approaches to expand larger solar for towns, large businesses, and the whole electricity grid.
What’s Net Metering and Why Should We Keep it?
Maine’s existing net metering policy, similar to that used in every strong solar market around the U.S., is successful because it is very customer-friendly and fair. It allows homeowners, businesses, and others who install solar power on their buildings and property to produce their own power in a fair and simple way, by providing power to the grid in addition to consuming it. While we are actively engaged in and fully support the stakeholder process to identify and develop additional solar policy proposals, we believe that we should continue to give consumers the choice to net meter until an alternative that is fair, sustainable, and supportive of solar is identified. Mainers deserve more energy choices, not fewer.
- Net metering is the foundational policy for solar job growth around the U.S. No thriving solar industry exists in the U.S. without solar net metering.
- Net metering is simple and does not rely on action by future government bureaucracy or regulators.
- Solar industry and job growth are due in large part to the stable predictably of net metering, and its ease of use for customers.
- Net metering allows solar homeowners to lower or eliminate their electric bills when they are compensated in a simple, predictable way for the power they send back to the grid .
- All independent cost/benefit studies for rooftop solar – including the recent Value of Solar study conducted in Maine – show that solar net metering benefits all customers
What Happens Next?
Solar advocates gathered on Wed, Dec 9, 2015 to laud the stakeholder process during their last day gathered at the PUC. The stakeholders now will send their policy proposals on to the PUC, whose staff will review it, and who will ultimately bring their recommendations before the Legislature. Should there be solar policy developed during the 2016 legislative session, we will be working to rally Maine voters to contact their representatives, write letters to the editor, and to engage in other actions to support the prospective legislation.