Hundreds of solar supporters packed Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearings on April 2 and 3, 2014, as the PUC took public comment about a controversial rate case that would substantially hurt solar’s ROI in Maine.
ReVision Energy lead pre-hearing rallies on both nights, joined by existing solar customers, homeowners who hope to go solar, other solar professionals, and a broad coalition of environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Environment Maine, 350 Maine, and the Alliance for Solar Choice.
CMP’s proposed discriminatory rate structure served to galvanize supporters of clean energy, who represent a broad cross-section of Maine’s demographics. We heard from fixed-income Mainers who invested retirement savings into solar in order to protect peace of mind in retirement, from fathers and mothers whose solar project represented a major investment to save money and model good stewardship to their children, from lobster fisherman and paper mill employees, dairy farmers, ski mountain operators and off-gridders. We heard from Vietnam Veterans, from scientists who sounded the clarion call about global warming, from Bowdoin students who voiced their concerns about inheriting a poisoned planet, and from the elderly who are sick and tired of having their limited incomes squeezed out of them by corporate greed… And from dozens more still.
Both PUC hearings lasted more than 3 hours, which is rare if not unprecedented in this kind of rate case. The PUC has until July to rule in the case.
You may continue to submit public comment at: https://mpuc-cms.maine.gov/CQM.Public.WebUI/Comments/PublicComments.aspx?CaseNumber=2013-00168.
A Packed Room in Hallowell
The Solar Rally in Portland
The National Attack on Clean Energy
CMP’s proposal comes as no surprise to those who have been watching the utility industry nationwide wage a war on clean energy.
Solar is experiencing a meteoric rise: in 2013 solar was the #2 fastest growing source of new electricity, and in the last 18 months alone, as much solar was installed in the USA as in the previous 30 years. Estimates are that the amount of installed solar in the USA will again double by the end of 2015. Solar now employs more people than the coal and oil industry combined.
Dramatically lower costs for solar panels, combined with ever-increasing costs of traditional generation, is helping solar approach ‘grid parity’ in many parts of the country. Some parts of the country are embracing this – Minnesota conducted a ‘value of solar’ study and was the first state to set a fair market-based tariff, while Vermont conducted a similar value of solar study and found that a + $.03 premium for solar above retail rate was in fact undervaluing solar. Vermont just lifted its cap on net metering, opening the door for much more solar to be installed. Vermont’s largest utility, Green Mountain Power, was recognized by Vote Solar as the 2014 Utility Solar Champion.
The future of U.S. energy is in electricity – a grid where most homes produce some or all of their own power, where heating and cooling is done with clean electricity rather than fossil fuels, and where electric cars discharge and recharge the grid as transportation and grid needs require. However, many utilities are stuck in the 1950s vision of the grid – big power lines, transmission stations and centralized power plants – and feel threatened by the vision of a decentralized grid, where the homeowner is in more control of their energy use and thus, reliable profits are threatened.
It is this context that we heard that ALEC called for penalties on solar customers, accusing them of being ‘freeriders’ on the grid. The Alliance for Solar Choice, a group dedicated to preserving the right to access net metering, told us that solar has come under some form of attack in 26 states. This flies in the face of sensible net metering policy – which is currently the law in 46 states and Washington D.C. (map of net metering states).
The argument that solar customers are ‘free riders’ (people who require the grid to be available at night yet get credit for their production during the day) flies in the face of all the conclusions reached by ‘value of solar’ studies. These studies continue to demonstrate that solar, in fact, provides a value above the retail rate of electricity, because it provides highly valuable ‘peak’ power load, electricity produced locally in populated areas during the hottest days of summer when cooling loads are at their max, and the grid is stressed out.
It is time for utilities to stop looking at solar energy as a threat, and instead look at it as a partner.
A Watershed Moment for Solar
CMP’s attack on solar will play out a little differently than similar fights in other states, since it is a rate case and not a legislative process. Ultimately, the three PUC commissioners will come to a ruling based on all of the testimony they have received, and we hope that they will look at the stunning body of evidence, as well as the personal stories presented during the lively hearings, when making a decision about what is good public policy.
The stakes are high, as time is running out to change our behavior such that we can prevent the worst effects of climate change. But we can do it. It is economically sound and technologically feasible to convert our grid to be smarter, less centralized, and cleaner. We will create jobs and save Mainers money by doing so. The moment to change is now, and what we do will have effects for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.
We hope we can look back at this as a watershed moment in Maine’s history, when the Dirigo state stopped falling behind its neighbors in the adoption of renewable energy and instead decided to lead.
Much more about the rate case at: iratepayer.org