Augusta, ME – Solar companies across the state reacted to the news this afternoon of Governor LePage’s veto of LD 1649, An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development.
The bill represents a unique, collaborative effort between parties that have often found little agreement related to solar policy. Maine’s investor-owned utilities, local solar contractors, municipalities, environmental advocates, and the Office of the Public Advocate all support the measure, which will modernize the relationship between solar technologies and the regulated electrical utilities in the state. If passed, the bill would significantly increase Maine’s solar capacity and open up market sectors – such as grid-scale, agricultural, municipal, industrial and commercial applications – that are currently nonexistent in Maine due to current regulation. The bill also provides predictability in Maine’s existing solar markets, namely the residential and light commercial sectors.
The bill received bipartisan support in the Maine House and Senate and will return to those chambers on Friday when votes are scheduled to determine whether the legislature will override vetoes made by Governor Paul LePage.
For small business owner Vaughan Woodruff of Insource Renewables in Pittsfield, the bill’s progress has provided a mixture of hope and frustration.
“We entered into these negotiations in an effort to adapt Maine’s energy policy to meet the demands of a technology that is significantly different than many conventional sources of electricity,” said Woodruff. “The stakeholder process was challenging but ultimately demonstrated the ability for Mainers to come together to create a solution that benefits the people of Maine.”
Woodruff’s frustration stems from efforts by the governor’s office and out-of-state companies. Woodruff claims that these parties have been working directly with key legislators to undermine the efforts of stakeholders that were directed by the legislature to develop these solutions.
“Instead of focusing on solutions that address our state’s unique energy opportunities, the opposition is directly working to undermine the use of solar in our state. As a result, they are threatening the livelihoods of 330 Maine workers and their families,” commented Woodruff.
Maine’s solar companies are already feeling the consequences of the uncertainty surrounding LD 1649 and its outcome. Several companies have scaled back in recent weeks as potential clients have waited for the outcome of bill.
Assured Solar Energy, a solar contracting firm based in North Yarmouth, had seen significant growth in 2015. Owner Rob Taisey has seen continued interest in solar, but his operations have slowed significantly as prospective clients wait for certainty on how decisions in Augusta might affect their investments.
“Installing a solar energy system is a decision that many of our customers have thought about for years. It is an easy decision to put off for a while longer,” explained Taisey. “It would be irresponsible of the legislature not to develop a clear policy on solar and instead rely on the unelected, LePage-appointed PUC to come up with their own process to review net energy billing.”
Sam Zuckerman, owner of Maine Solar Solutions in Durham, has seen similar impacts. Zuckerman, like many solar business owners in Maine, has significant concerns about the future of Maine’s solar industry should the future of net metering be left to the Public Utilities Commission’s scheduled review of the policy.
“If we have this continued uncertainty while the public waits for the PUC’s review of net metering, many of our state’s solar companies may not be around by the time they make their ruling,” explained Zuckerman.
Fortunat Mueller of ReVision Energy of Portland was heavily involved in the stakeholder process that resulted in the drafting of LD 1649. Mueller voiced frustration with Governor LePage’s lack of good faith during the past ten months of negotiations with stakeholders.
“Each time an agreement was reached, the Governor and the director of his energy office, Patrick Woodcock, continued to bring up new objections and to move the goalposts,” said Mueller.
Mueller contends that the governor’s reasons for vetoing the bill demonstrates either LePage’s lack of understanding of the legislation or a willingness to be dishonest about the bill’s details in order to coerce lawmakers.
“He says he is vetoing the bill because it doesn’t contain price caps, when the bill has three separate mechanisms that constrain possible rate payer impacts. Every comprehensive analysis of the program shows a rate payer savings of over $100M over 20 years,” explained Mueller.
“The governor is simply wrong.”
In order to override the governor’s veto, two-thirds of Maine’s representatives and two-thirds of the senate will need to affirm the measure. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of LD 1649 prior to the veto and the House fell a few votes shy of the supermajority that will be needed for an override.
Supporters are optimistic that Maine’s legislature will vote to override the veto. Mueller believes that the estimated $500 million dollars of direct investment, 650 new jobs, and reduced electricity costs for all Mainers will convince legislators of the bill’s importance.
“The more that lawmakers understand the bill, the more they have voiced their support for it. We are confident that the legislature will vote on Friday to override the Governor’s veto,” said Mueller.