ld1649 solar energy bill MaineMaine has made national headlines for its innovative proposed solar policy, which brought together interests as diverse as utility companies, ratepayer advocates, labor unions, environmental groups, municipal representatives, and solar installers to develop an evolution of net metering.

Unfortunately, the widespread consensus shattered when the bill arrived in Maine’s legislature. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram), who previously supported the bill, abruptly turned around and advocated a stance to maintain the status quo.

The Governor’s office also made their intentions clear, spreading misinformation about solar’s efficacy and advocating a position which would cap rates for solar well below their market value and reduce the term of solar contracts to ten years, effectively making solar impossible to build in Maine.

Despite the headwinds of misinformation and a temptation to side with party over facts, Maine’s House passed the original LD1649 in a 81-69 vote. Then, the bill went on to the Senate, where a floor amendment changed some language to clarify siting for agricultural projects, explicitly opt-in muncipalities into the program, and reduce program length from 5 years to 4 years. This amended bill passed unanimously in Maine’s Senate, and picked up some votes to pass 91-56 in the House.

LD1649 is on Governor LePage’s desk, awaiting a likely veto pen. This means that the fate of solar in Maine will hinge on reaching a veto-proof majority in Maine’s House and Senate.

Please either THANK your Rep/Senator for saying YES to solar jobs and environmental benefits, or express your disappointment that they voted NO for those things.

What Happens Now?

revision energy rallying for solar at statehouse in augusta

ReVision Energy staffers rally for solar at the Capitol Building in Augusta, ME

Should the legislature fail to act, the outcome for solar could be chilling. Without LD1649, the PUC (stocked with LePage appointees) will alone decide the fate of net metering and Maine’s solar policy, as early as this summer. Solar supporters should make it clear to their representatives that policy making is what we sent them to Augusta to do, and that it is unacceptable for them to abdicate this responsibility in favor of an unelected group of political appointees.

The best hope now is if House and Senate Republicans take a stand – not for politics – but for jobs, energy savings, and the environment, and only their constituents can convince them it is worth doing so.

Wait, does this mean they’re trying to kill net metering?

To be crystal clear: no one (including the Governor) has suggested that existing net metering customers would have this right revoked. To do so would be a gross violation of the public trust and would be nearly unprecedented, so most industry watchers expect existing solar customers to be ‘grandfathered’ in regardless of the outcome at the legislature or PUC.  For those customers watching the policy conversation and wondering whether to move forward on a project, our advice is generally to go solar now under today’s existing net metering rules, as in any scenario, future policy risk for existing solar customers is certainly lower than for prospective ones.

What is LD1649 all about?

LD1649 is the product of a months-long series of conversations amongst a stakeholder group that included environmental groups, solar installers, utility companies, representatives of municipalities, educational institutions, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) and others. It was a hard-fought consensus but the product of a process that was level-headed, fair, and collaborative. It seeks to phase out net metering in exchange for a contract-based structure that allows solar to compete better in the marketplace and recoup more benefits for Maine ratepayers.

Some of the key provisions of the bill:

  • Establishes goal of 196MW installed solar by 2021 (down from 248MW in the original bill).
  • Expands solar market in Maine to reach to include utility-scale projects, commercial/industrial projects, municipalities, and large scale community solar.
  • Completely lifts cap on community solar.
  • Saves rate payers over $58,000,000 over the program life! All solar projects under the new plan would get a fixed-rate 20-yr contract price for exported solar power.
    • The “Woodsome Amendment” inculded hard caps on solar prices for C&I, community, and grid-scale market segments. It also includes a cap to keep compensation from being higher than current net metering.
  • All solar projects under the new plan would get a fixed-rate 20-yr contract price for exported solar power. Any usage ‘behind the meter’ would obviously be at full retail rates.
  • Gathers ‘money left on the table’ by current net metering by allowing small solar producers to aggregate and sell into solar markets (this is essentially how the ‘value of solar’ is recovered and pass on as savings to all ratepayers).
  • Grandfathers in existing net metering customers (and new customers until program implementation).

How does LD1649 save ratepayers money?

We compiled projections from Maine’s Office of the Public Advocate (a LePage appointee) who performed a conservative cost/benefit modeling of the (amended) proposal. The projections of how grid markets will work in the future is a bit challenging, but we have been very impressed with the rigor and conservativeness of the OPA’s models. If anything, the solar benefits to ratepayers should well exceed what is presented in the proposal (especially since environmental benefits are essentially ignored, save from the actual cash value of REC sales):

ld1649-graphs

LD1649 FAQs:

Maine solar installers

Workers in the solar industry are hopeful Maine’s legislature will override a LePage veto and pass LD1649

Should I go solar now or wait?

People who go solar now can get the best of both worlds – the full benefits of retail net metering now, and the choice of whether to switch over to the new policy or stay with net metering once the new policy is introduced. As we’ve warned, should LD1649 fail, a full attack on net metering may be next, and the best safeguard to this is probably to already be enrolled in the program.

LD1649 specifically does not want to create a gap in the market where homeowners postpone an investment until after the program is in place. Should LD1649 going into effect, any existing net-metered systems can stick with net metering through 2029, or choose to enroll in the new program at the best possible rate.

Does this do away with net metering?

This program seeks to replace net metering with a program that resolves the conflict over net metering in the long-term and will get more solar built in the near-term. If the program fails to get as much solar built as it is intended to do, it has a mechanism by which rates will be re-adjusted, or, barring a fix, will restore net metering completely.

Importantly, anyone who has net metering can stay with it; all parties agree with the need to grandfather in existing solar customers.

Is this policy a subsidy?

No. Numerous studies, most importantly, Maine’s Value of Solar study, suggest that current retail net metering actually UNDER compensates solar generators for their electricity. However, in the spirit of compromise (and current policy reality) we recognize that an evolution to net metering can improve Maine’s solar market in a number of ways.

At least as the bill is written now, this program would replace net metering (and not run both programs in parallel). Again, if the new program fails to perform, net metering exactly as it exists today will return to Maine.

LD1649 makes the solar pricing process more transparent and recovers some market value currently underutilized by net metering, which is how it is modeled to save $55MM+ to Maine ratepayers (based on modeling from Maine’s Office of the Public Advocate).

Do you support the bill?

Yes. We particularly appreciate what the bill represents – leadership from a wide coalition of Mainers, from the utilities to labor unions, in solving a challenging policy question. All parties unite around a central concept: “How do we get more solar installed in Maine?” and then worked through different points of view, finding common ground that enabled the group to rough out the terms that ultimately have become the proposal before the legislature today.

We are extremely frustrated that a small group of players, oddly enough, Governor LePage and out of state solar companies, have allied to do everything possible to stop it.

What happens next?

LD1649 is on Governor LePage’s desk, awaiting a likely veto pen. This means that the fate of solar in Maine will hinge on reaching a veto-proof majority in Maine’s House and Senate.

Should the legislature fail to act, the outcome for solar could be chilling. Without LD1649, the PUC (stocked with LePage appointees) will alone decide the fate of net metering and Maine’s solar policy, as early as this summer. Solar supporters should make it clear to their representatives that policy making is what we sent them to Augusta to do, and that it is unacceptable for them to abdicate this responsibility in favor of an unelected group of political appointees.

The best hope now is if House and Senate Republicans take a stand – not for politics – but for jobs, energy savings, and the environment, and only their constituents can convince them it is worth doing so. Our impression from the legislature is that they see few electoral repercussions if they don’t stand for solar – an impression we need to change. Legislators need to hear from you that you expect them to step away from knee jerk partisanship and to instead work collaboratively to tackle the issues and seize the opportunities in front of them.

In short: Do your job!

Solar workers have been calling in to Reps/Senators to explain how their jobs are on the line, those with solar should explain how the investment has worked out for them and why more solar is important for the state, those who work in solar should talk about how they want good paying, local jobs, and those who want to go solar should explain how not passing this policy will remove their ability to lock in energy savings and protect themselves from rate hikes solar.