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Maine’s government has passed the buck on a net metering alternative

Avatar for Ben Zientara
Published on 05/17/2016 in
Updated 08/30/2017

May 17th, 2016

A couple months ago, we reported on Maine’s attempt to rewrite the rules governing how solar power is bought by electric utility companies. The proposal was part of a law that would have set a flat rate for solar purchasing (called a value-of-solar tariff) for the next 20 years.

The rule changes, which were backed by the state’s electric utilities, solar companies, and the Sierra Club, among other groups, were necessitated by the fact that Maine had recently crossed a threshold of 1% of total electric generation coming from solar—the trigger for a review of the state’s net metering policy.

Well, much-loved Maine governor Paul LePage did what he said he would, and vetoed the solar bill, and then the legislature, which until very recently appeared to have the votes to override such a veto, couldn’t manage to pass it, leading some to point fingers at big nationwide solar companies, who oppose any changes to net metering laws.

So now what happens to Maine solar?

Back in April, our analysis of the value-of-solar (VoS) proposition was that it was “sensible.” We took this position because of all the alternatives to net metering, VoS tariffs that arise as a result of careful study of the benefits of solar are the most promising, providing a good return on a solar investment for homeowners and a secure future marketplace for utilities and solar companies alike. Basically, they keep the gears turning toward a clean energy economy that works for ordinary citizens.

Our previous estimates didn’t include reimbursement at the wholesale energy rate… which would suck

Now that the Maine legislature and executive branch have abdicated their responsibilities to come up with new rules for the next however-many percent of solar that will be added to the state’s energy mix, it’s up to the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to do so.

Trouble is, PUCs in other states haven’t had a great track record of being good for the solar industry. They’re often made up of just a few members (Maine’s has just 3 members), who are nominated by the governor (giving the Gov. unusually strong power in this regard), and usually have ties with the utility industry. All of this adds up to mean they’re liable to change their minds given enough, shall we say, “scrilla.”

Now we’re not implying Maine’s Public Utilities Commissioners can be bought, but they can certainly be influenced, shall we say. A spokeswoman for SolarCity has already uttered the line “We just wanted to protect net metering, at all costs,” so we can see how that might mean some “influencing.”

Of course, industry opponents like ALEC and the state’s utility companies will probably also have some things to say. Whether or not those things come in stacks wrapped and in rubber bands is something we’d rather not speculate on. Of course, the utility companies have already backed the VoS rules in the now-dead legislation, but there’s no guarantee they won’t recant that support if they believe they can get a better deal from the PUC. As always, stay tuned to our blog for further updates.

Last modified: August 30, 2017

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