Breakthrough “NeXt Metering” Solar Policy Announced in Maine
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Maine has lacked any state-level policies to support solar since 2010, when a clerical error resulted in the elimination of the State’s rebate program for solar. Since then, solar advocates have worked tirelessly to come up with policy that allows the Pine Tree state to benefit from solar’s undeniable benefits: growth in the economy, improved independence for solar producers, economic and environmental benefits for all ratepayers.
Despite legislative headwinds, Maine’s solar industry has continued to grow steadily thanks to rapidly declining costs and the innovation and dogged efforts of its workforce. Now, a new legislative proposal offers a fresh path forward for Maine’s solar industry.
Among many provisions, the bill’s most exciting things:
- Calls for 250MW of solar to be installed over the next five years, 12.5x what we have today!
- Makes solar much more attractive to commercial and industrial, utility, and large-scale solar installations where current economics don’t really work.
- Eliminates the cap on community solar farms and provides framework for significant growth of CSFs.
- Preserves net metering for existing customers and keeps it as a fallback should there be problems with the new policy.
- Allows nearly every ratepayer in Maine to participate in solar by introducing the “Solar offer,” a way for regular ratepayers to pay a premium on the green benefits of solar power (purchased through the new system) and use that revenue to support the development of new solar projects.
We are grateful to a number of partners including Maine’s public advocate, Tim Schneider, Freeport Representative Sara Gideon, Environmental Groups like NRCM, CLF and Maine Conservation Alliance, as we now have a chance to get serious solar policy in place for Maine.
A bit more information on the policy at: http://www.nrcm.org/blogs-of-nrcm/breakthrough-for-solar-power-in-maine/
How NeXt Metering Would Work
Under the proposed legislation, producers of solar would be compensated by flat per-kilowatt-hour rates (determined by the PUC, based on a complex framework defined in the legislation) rather than being pegged to the retail rate for electricity. Solar customers, large and small, would enter into 20-year contracts with an entity called the “Standard Buyer,” whose job would be to aggregate the solar fleet built under this new proposal and derive the greatest benefit for all ratepayers from that fleet.
For example, a residential customer would agree to sell all of the excess solar generation (e.g. everything they do not consume on site) for a known quantity per kilowatt-hour, ensuring a very predictable financial model for the project. The same would be true of large-scale projects, which is especially beneficial for this segment since larger businesses typically pay smaller per-kilowatt hour rates in exchange for higher ‘demand charges’ on their bill. The rates are all determined on a set of metrics that aims to get 250MW of solar built in the next five years, forcing the solar compensation to be competitive.
For a residential customer, it would not look much different than today’s net metering. One nice advantage of the new system would be that bill credits are monetary (not based on kilowatt-hours) so they could be applied to all portions of the bill, including the fixed overhead fee to keep one’s account open with the utility company. Existing solar customers could opt to keep retail net metering through 2029.
Restoring Maine’s Leadership
As we’ve remarked previously, utilities are fighting hard against net metering across the United States (with a few notable exceptions such as Green Mountain Power in VT, who are embracing rather than fighting renewable energy).
With the extension of the 26% federal solar tax credit, solar is on track to continue its exponential growth. Already, in 2015 solar beat out natural gas as the #1 source of new electricity generation added to the grid.
In Maine, the rate of solar adoption lags behind our New England neighbors and the rest of the nation. This new solar policy presents an opportunity to change this – a policy that navigates a tricky compromise between a wide range of interests including utilities, environmental groups, labor unions, municipal and education groups, and the Public Advocate’s office.
We’re proud that Maine has an opportunity to restore our reputation as a state of independent, free (and forward) thinking problem solvers. Utilities are aware that rooftop solar is not going anywhere and, given the reality of Maine politics, this proposal is the best new solar policy we’re going to have in the foreseeable future.
The New Bill’s Journey Through the Legislature
This new policy framework was announced on Thursday, February 25, 2016. The first step is for the bill to get a hearing from the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee which we expect will happen around the first week of March. We expect that hearing to be an epic one – Maine’s solar coalition hopes to speak in favor of the bill in a singular voice, including homeowners of many walks of life, faith groups, municipalities, and most of the solar installers in the state.
We hope the Committee will progress the bill through to a floor vote, and should the bill pass the Legislature we expect it will be vetoed by the Governor, and then face a veto-override vote. If it gets that far, it will become law!
Given the stakes, we encourage everyone who cares about solar in Maine to voice their support of the new solar policy to their legislators.
- Contact your Maine state senator and representative(s) – Look up your legislator here, also send a note to the members of Maine’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee
- Contact the press – writing a heart felt letter to the editor can be quite powerful
- Speak in defense of the bill when it has its hearing in Maine’s state house. We expect the bill to have its hearing no earlier than the 1st week of March. Details to come!
What About Net Metering?
We have and will continue to vigorously defend net metering as a simple, effective, and fair policy, which has been shown (thanks to Maine’s Value of Solar Study) to be a benefit to all Maine ratepayers. This policy was crafted with a ‘do no harm’ philosophy, meaning, the new policy should be at least as good a deal as current net metering for consumers, while also offering benefits for new solar market segments, such as commercial and industrial solar and large-scale solar farms. We also like that the value of solar is more transparent under “neXt metering.”
Any prospective solar customer who wants net metering should get the process started such that their system comes along during the phase where (assuming this new policy is passed) they would qualify to be grandfathered in under current net metering rules. Anyone who has an existing net metered system will have the option to re-enroll under the new program, which may be more attractive than current retail net metering.