Maine and NH Legislative Outlook: Progress and Struggles for Solar in the Northeast
Solar Power | February 17, 2015 |Posted by Fred Greenhalgh
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With new legislative sessions taking shape, we are heartened by the growing support for renewable energy in the legislatures of Maine and New Hampshire, a reflection of solar’s growing importance as a reliable, locally made and economically beneficial source of energy.
Maine: Solar Farms, SRECs, and… a Rebate?
Several new solar bills have been proposed and will be considered this session. The most ambitious, sponsored by Rep. Gideon (D-Freeport), would establish a Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) market in Maine, paid for by a carve-out from Maine’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS).
An SREC market is a performance-driven financial incentive for solar energy products, which generates payments for the solar owner based on the system’s actual production. The rate for RECs would vary (the most ever would be $200 per Megawatt-hour of production). Most likely – if everything went well – a homeowner could sell RECs in the range of $50-$125 per REC. For example, a homeowner with a 5-kilowatt solar array might earn $250-625 additional revenue per year for their system’s production, above the actual savings from their utility company. The bill will be called “An Act to Create Jobs and Promote Investment in Maine’s Economy through Increased Access to Solar Energy,” but full text is not yet printed.
A smaller, but important, provision in the Bill would raise the arbitrary cap on participants in community solar farms from 10 to 25. Speaking of community solar farms, here is some video from the first CSF to be installed in Maine, in South Paris this past summer:
See our website for more info on solar farms.
Other solar bills being drafted would aim to support solar adoption for rural farms, and offer incentives for solar and heat pump combination systems.
Helping to shape the discussion of solar in this session will be the “Value of Solar” study due out soon from Maine’s PUC. The VoS is being written in response to legislation passed last year, “The Maine Solar Energy Act.” Similar studies, such as the historic one in Minnesota, found that traditional metrics severely under-valued solar energy’s contribution to the grid, and set a precedent for a market-based price for solar energy which would be greater than the compensation received under the terms of current net metering policy.
Updates will start to get fast and furious as we get deeper into this year’s legislation session. Solar supporters throughout the State should contact their elected officials on all levels of government and voice their support of solar. We especially encourage those living in Maine’s rural areas to make their voice heard: an enduring myth that solar is only for wealthier coastal areas of Maine persists and threatens the availability of clean energy for Mainers of all walks of life.
We also recommend following the Natural Resources Council of Maine who have made solar advocacy a major focus this year and are providing incredible grassroots organizing efforts towards the promotion of solar.
New Hampshire: Increasing Electric Bills = Better ROI for Solar
The biggest energy story in New Hampshire for many residents is increasing bills. We have heard from customers who are reporting price hikes by 50% or more in the past month. With Vermont Yankee having just ceased operations, the forecast is for electric rates to continue to increase in the near-term.
New Hampshire’s solar rebate program currently remains well-funded, though there is speculation that the legislator might seek to “raid” RPS funds to balance the budget.
Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Electric Co-op (NHEC) is the first utility in New Hampshire to near their net metering cap. Under state law, utilities must offer solar net metering for customers up to a cap of 50 megawatts, divvied up amongst the electric utilities based on their size. NHEC is the first utility to near its cap (3.16MW), a result of strong interest in homeowners in their territory going solar, helped by NHEC’s own extra solar incentive (which has ranged as high as $2,750, in addition to the NH State rebate of $3,750).
How NHEC responds to the cap will set an important precedent as to the relationship of solar and utility companies in New Hampshire – will NH’s utilities adapt to a decentralized, smarter, and renewable powered grid, or fight for an outdated business model, as others have? To its credit, the NHEC tends to be very open to feedback from its customer base, and during a “listening” session held on Feb 11, 2015 a lively and civil debate was held discussing the nature of solar adoption in the NHEC going forward.
There was strong demand for a transparent process assessing the true cost/value of solar in the NHEC. The perception persists that solar generation for individuals pushes costs of maintaining the grid onto other customers, however this issue has not been fully studied in New Hampshire to date. Solar and non-solar customers alike agreed that NHEC needs a sustainable, long-term business plan, however, the solar community pressed that it is difficult to set a meaningful policy regarding net metering if the cost/value is not well understood. NHEC is currently conducting their own “value of solar” study and solar advocates pleaded for that work to be completed before NHEC drafts any new solar policy.
So far, NHEC has voluntarily raised their cap by another 240 kilowatts, allowing solar PV projects in the pipeline to continue to be installed under today’s net metering terms. We’ll keep you updated.