Augusta, ME – Solar professionals representing businesses across Maine joined with lawmakers, the state’s investor-owned utilities, and the Office of the Public Advocate today to express support for a comprehensive bill that seeks to significantly expand Maine’s use of solar energy.
During the past five years, Maine lawmakers have been unable to agree upon appropriate measures to provide the predictability needed to increase Maine’s access to solar energy. As a result, Maine has the lowest installed solar capacity per capita and the least number of solar jobs per capita of any state in the region.
For the past several months, the Public Utilities Commission and the Public Advocate, Tim Schneider, have facilitated discussions seeking to address Maine’s lack of comprehensive solar policy in an effort to benefit all Maine ratepayers. The result of these discussions, LD 1649, An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development, represents a unique, collaborative effort between parties that have often found little agreement related to solar policy.
For the solar industry, it represents promise amidst a market that has been unpredictable. Many of Maine’s solar companies have been hesitant to make long-term investments in capital and staffing due to constantly changing policy at the national and state levels. Supporters of LD 1649 claim that the legislation will provide the predictability that is currently missing.
“We are ready to hire new employees,” remarked Sam Zuckerman of Maine Solar Solutions in Durham. “I am not confident about hiring anyone until we have a policy in place that assures a future for residential solar in Maine.”
Some of the unpredictability in Maine’s solar market is due to a looming review of net metering, the arrangement that allows solar customers to receive an energy credit for extra electricity that they deliver to the grid. This policy is set to be reviewed by the Public Utilities Commission, and there is uncertainty about the outcome. Electrical utilities have been working to end net metering in states around the country, and LD 1649 would avoid this fight by creating an alternative to net metering that is palatable to Maine’s investor-owned utilities and the state’s solar industry.
Maine is positioned particularly well for expanding its solar industry. A recent study by the Department of Energy found that Maine has the second lowest installed cost of solar in the nation. The state’s industry includes several companies and individuals that contribute nationally to key solar organizations. Additionally, several institutions in the Maine Community College System have built training programs to prepare the state’s next generation of solar professionals.
Rich Roughgarden of Palermo made the transition to the solar industry when he started Maine Solar Engineering in 2008. Roughgarden worked for 22 years as an electrical engineer/project engineer in the paper industry. “Utilizing Kennebec Valley Community College and other resources I became nationally certified as a photovoltaic (PV) system installer. My company has designed and installed residential and commercial solar systems for the past 7 years,” said Roughgarden, who also supports the installation process for developers and electrical contractors.
Harry Pollard IV, owner of True Enterprises, is another one of many of Maine’s solar professionals who has leveraged his opportunity with KVCC. “After graduating from KVCC with a degree in Industrial Electrical/Electronics Technology, I found solar interesting and decided to learn more,” said Pollard. “After returning to KVCC to take their solar program I decided to start a business in the industry. Solar has been a great business opportunity.”
Pollard’s business is located in York, which has provided him with the opportunity to work in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“The solar policy in Massachusetts and New Hampshire has helped generate many jobs,” continued Pollard. “Maine has the opportunity and needs to take advantage of the large potential job growth here.”
Massachusetts has seen significant growth in solar jobs over the past 5 years. The 2015 National Solar Jobs Census estimates that Massachusetts currently employs over 15,000 solar workers in over 2,000 companies. In just three years, Massachusetts has increased its solar jobs by a factor of three.
In the same time span, it is estimated that Maine has lost nearly 20% of its solar-specific jobs. This is a stark contrast to the rest of the country, which has seen solar jobs increase by roughly 20% for each of the last three years.
“With the announcement of the Madison Paper closing and roughly 210 jobs being lost, I’m reminded of my grandfather and uncle who worked at the Madison mill for their entire work lives,” shared Chuck Piper of Sundog Solar in Searsport. Piper sees solar as a burgeoning industry with the capability of replacing a number of blue collar jobs that have diminished with the closing of manufacturing facilities around Maine. “LD 1649 has the potential to add an additional 800 new, good paying jobs across the state,” added Piper. “One of the many great things about the solar bill is we can create these new jobs without any additional expense to the citizens of Maine. We feel this bill presents a great opportunity to Maine residents.”
LD 1649 is expected to reduce the cost of electricity to all ratepayers by monetizing the benefits of solar that are difficult to capture under the state’s current net metering arrangement. The bill has support from a diverse group of stakeholders, including Central Maine Power, Emera Maine, the Office of the Public Advocate, and Maine’s solar industry. Governor Paul LePage has voiced harsh criticism for the bill and is expected to veto the measure.
For more information or to schedule interviews before or after the event, please contact Vaughan Woodruff, (207) 659-1054