Under new leadership from Gov Janet Mills, and a legislature that supports a common-sense approach to clean energy, Maine’s solar policy is turning around after 8 years of being headed in the wrong direction.
Latest Update: July, 2019:
After 8 years of hovering on pause or going backwards, 2019 marks the year Maine’s solar policy made strong forward progress. Here’s a quick rundown of the legislative victories and what they mean for all Mainers.
LD91 – Eliminate Gross Metering
Sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry (D) of Bowdoinham, LD91 was the first, and most rapid, victory, undoing the LePage-era “Gross Metering,” which penalized homeowners for going solar. Covered in more detail at: Death to Gross Metering FAQ
LD1711: Transforms Solar Market for Commercial, Municipal, Nonprofits, and Community Solar
Sponsored by Sen. Dana Dow (R) of Waldoboro, LD1711 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the senate and strong support in the House, and was signed by Gov Mills on June 26th. Many of the ideas for this bill were part of comprehensive solar policy that the diverse stakeholder behind Solar For ME has been working on since 2015. Our shared goal has been to harness solar’s unique value to the grid and to broaden the set of people who can benefit from solar development.
This bill is a game-changer for commercial, nonprofit, municipal, and community solar:
- Modernizes Net Metering by eliminating a 10 meter cap on community shared solar projects, raises project size limit to 5,000 kilowatts (enabling economies of scale), and makes it explicit that third-party ownership (e.g. non profit PPAs, solar leases) are allowed under net metering. This effectively revives the opportunity for the community solar farm market in Maine, which went dormant during the LePage years.
- Creates a net metering program specifically for Commercial and Institutional (C&I) customers.C&I projects have often been difficult to make work under conventional net metering, because many of these customers pay a substantial portion of their electric bill based on ‘demand’ charges, a fixed fee based on the highest 15 minute usage of any given month, rather than on a volumetric basis (per kwhr). Conventional net metering works by compensating 1:1 for kilowatt-hours generated offsetting kilowatt-hours consumed. Since the cost these businesses pay much less per kilowatt-hour than smaller customers (who don’t pay demand rates and instead pay a higher T&D rate), the economics of net metered solar projects have often been challenging for these medium sized commercial and institutional/municipal customers.Under the new legislation, these C&I customers will receive a compensation rate for exported solar that will be much closer to what small commercial and residential customers receive under retail net metering. The result is that project economics should improve by 20-30% for many commercial projects, dropping a 10+ year project payback to a 5-6 year payback in many cases. Leveling the playing field for these medium commercial scale customers means that many more Maine businesses (and towns and schools and other non profits) can now invest in cost effective solar projects to offset their electrical load.
- The legislation directs the PUC to enter into long term contracts for large C&I (up to 5 MW) and large Community solar projects. The idea is similar in design to the procurement designed by the OPA for LD1649 several years ago and builds on some of the experience of the industry with procurement programs to our south (like SMART in MA).The long term contract rates are initially set by a competitive procurement to be held in early to mid 2020. Rates for projects after the initial auction are set through a series of declining blocks over the next several years. In short, the competitive procurements and long term contracts will result in the development of solar projects with large economies of scale that can offer broad social and economic benefits for both residential and commercial customers. In addition, the large community solar projects have the potential to significantly help low and moderate income Mainers participate and benefit from the clean energy transition, which has been a central policy goal of ours for a long time.
Some portions of LD1711, including the net metering updates and C&I net metering program, will go into effect relatively quickly this fall, while others (the procurements and long term contracts) will require additional rule making by the PUC and so will mostly affect projects being built in late 2020 or beyond.
LD1430 – Fixes Taxation Issues Around Solar
LD1430 (sponsored by Rep. Ryan Tipping (D) of Orono) is incredibly important in that it fixes property tax issues with solar projects which have caused grief for existing customers and acted as a drag on residential, community and commercial solar projects across the state for the last few years.
The issue had been that municipalities did not have clear guidance on how to handle property taxation for solar projects, and in the absence of such guidance, some municipalities had applied property tax assessments at levels that were punitive and significantly undermine the value proposition for customers.
With LD1430, Maine joins the majority of New England states in enacting a statewide property tax exemption for residential and commercial solar property (except for utility scale solar projects). It also directs Maine Revenue to develop standardized methods for solar valuation to create a predictable and consistent climate for these investments.
LD1494 – Modernizes Maine’s RPS and Pushes Toward 100% Renewables
This bill (sponsored by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D) of Sagadahoc, a longstanding solar champion) modernizes Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), clarifying definitions about what constitutes ‘renewable energy’ and setting ambitious goals of achieving 80% renewable generation by 2030 and 100% by 2050. This policy matches the renewable energy targets Gov Mills outlined earlier in the year and that she talked about at her inauguration.
The RPS is a mechanism that requires power companies to source a certain amount of their power from renewable sources each year. There is a lot of technical nuance about types (Classes) of RPS and which types of power generation qualifies under which Class, but in short the purpose of these policies is to encourage grid-scale deployment of renewables and provides a mechanism to do so.
Something that has been problematic about Maine’s RPS is that much of the current RPS is filled by existing biomass power plants, which, while important, doesn’t create the appropriate incentive to develop new, indigenous energy generation from wind and solar. This has had the effect of encouraging more natural gas deployment in Maine than we otherwise would have had.
Maine’s RPS has lagged behind other New England states, and with the passage of this new legislation, we are now returning to a position of leading our region. Over time, this policy is expected to lead to the development of a whopping an estimated 500 MW of new solar and 200 MW of new wind, and the creation of nearly 2,000 jobs over the next 10 years.
More on the implications of the RPS – https://www.nrcm.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/MERPSAnalysisFacts.pdf
LD1282 – Solar on Schools
The ambitiously titled “Green New Deal” legislation (sponsored by Rep. Chloe Maxmin (D) of Nobleboro) includes a provision whereby solar should be installed on every new school built in Maine.
The bill also includes provisions on workforce development for the green jobs of tomorrow. Renewable energy installers in the state, such as ReVision Energy (who have recreated their own in-house electrical apprentice training program, ReVision Energy Technical Center) already recognize the gap between the need for solar workers and available people in the workforce. Industry is excited to work with state leaders, labor, and the community college system to deepen workforce development efforts into the future.
Why Solar Matters to Maine:
- 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
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.