We created this rendering of solar panels atop the Blaine House as a April Fool’s Joke in 2015 – back when the idea seemed far-fetched. Thanks to new Governor, Janet Mills, solar panels on the Blaine House will be a reality!

In her inaugural address, Janet Mills announced she will be installing solar panels on the roof of the Blaine House!

The move is not only a great idea — solar panels have dropped in price by 99% over the last 10 years and Maine’s annual sunshine harvest is on par with the Mediterranean — but also a powerful signal that a new era in leadership in regards to energy policy has arrived.

The End of a Dark Era for Maine’s Solar Policy

In contrast, Gov. Mills’s predecessor seemed to have no coherent energy policy other than to resist modernization and renewable energy at all costs. LePage’s legacy includes thrice veto’ing bipartisan solar policy updates, first by blocking “NeXt metering,” an innovative, first-in-the-nation market-based reform which was developed by a broad coalition of stakeholders and including unlikely supporters including environmental groups, the solar industry, many municipalities, and Maine’s two largest utility companies. NeXt metering failed to reach a veto override by a handful of votes, with some lawmakers deciding to dodge the final vote or flip their votes under heavy muscling from the Governor’s office and/or party leadership.

Similar dynamics were behind the defeat of modest policy proposals in the subsequent sessions. The next chapter was the Legislature trying to lock in net metering, the fundamental policy enabling solar in Maine, which offers a fair 1:1 credit for solar exported to the grid (a compensation system demonstrated as fair by the PUC’s own study on the Value of Solar). That bill passed with strong bipartisan majorities in both of Maine’s legislative chambers, but then was vetoed, and failed an override by a handful of votes.

revision energy rallying for solar at statehouse in augusta

ReVision Energy staffers rally for solar at the Capitol Building in Augusta, ME in 2016. Despite broad bipartisan support, a modest solar bill that did nothing other than maintain a status-quo approach to solar, was vetoed and failed an override by 2 votes.

Next, the LePage PUC conducted an unprecedented attack on solar, by creating a system for taxing homeowners for solar power generated BEHIND the electric meter. Nowhere in the USA had a utility had any business taxing a homeowner for self-generated power, but — that’s exactly what was proposed, and what ended up coming into effect, after — again — the Governor threw his weight at the Legislature.

In the gross metering debate, like many before it, the Governor and his allies actively sowed confusion around what the bill would do, and strong-armed members of his own party to ignore the obvious flaws in gross metering, such as forcing the cost of the expensive new metering system onto Maine’s ratepayers. Many who voted FOR gross metering did so because they said publicly that it would save Maine ratepayers money, while the bill literally did the exact opposite. To date, gross metering has cost Maine ratepayers well over $2,000,000.

Indeed, recognizing the prohibitive cost of gross metering relative to little/no benefits to the system, Maine’s PUC ultimately repealed gross metering for medium and large-scale customers, and now, we hope the end of this ‘gross’ era for Maine’s solar policy will end ASAP for residential customers as well.

A New Dawn

All of us at ReVision Energy welcome the new Governor and a fresh approach to solar in Maine. At the same time, we also want to make it clear that we are grateful for solar’s broad bipartisan supporters including many Republicans who have been big champions for smart solar policy in the past.

Solar has a unique suite of benefits for ALL Mainers, and is not an issue that should divide along party lines. Indeed, solar is a unique technology that offers an opportunity to save costs in the electrical generation and distribution system while simultaneously addressing the crisis of climate disruption. It enables Maine to start plugging a $5 BILLION annual hole in our economy caused by our dependence on fossil fuels, and instead use clean energy to drive a modern, information-age economy where energy and the environment can peacefully co-exist.

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