Report from Augusta: Solar Policy on the Frontlines
Legislation & Policy | May 10, 2013 |Posted by Fred Greenhalgh
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The current legislative session is critical to the future of solar in Maine, with at least four bills under consideration that will directly impact solar, as well as general energy efficiency measures and the vision and management structure of the Efficiency Maine trust.
ReVision Energy will be calling on current and future clients, partners, and other supporters of solar in Maine to help get the word out to representatives and senators that solar is a cost-effective, sensible investment for Mainers.
The Process: All of the bills below have gone through a public hearing process (well attended by a variety of advocates of solar with some opposition from utilities), and are expected to go through various work sessions by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. The various measures are likely to be consolidated before being introduced to the legislature.
What You Can Do: At this point, you can tell your state senator and representative(s) (http://www.maine.gov/portal/government/edemocracy/lookup_voter_info)that you’re a supporter of solar. The legislation below is going into committee and likely to change before it goes to vote. When the time comes, you may get a notice from us asking for your direct action to support the most important measures to solar in Maine.
The Bills on the Docket:
LD 1252 – An Act to Improve Maine’s Economy and Energy Security with Solar and Wind Energy
This Bill would restore the funding mechanism for Maine’s solar rebate program, a small system benefit charge (SBC) applied to all electric bills in the State (at an average cost of under $1/household/year). Legislation to continue this program was passed in 2010, but due to a technical error was invalidated.
Since loss of the funding, Efficiency Maine has continued to operate using SBC funds collected prior to December, 2010, and other sources of stopgap funding. However, even emergency funding is running out, and in order to continue offering a solar rebate, Efficiency Maine needs solar rebate funding restored.
ReVision Energy considers restoration of the solar rebate program a ‘must-have.’ The economic impact of the SBC on ratepayers is minimal (significantly less than CMP’s latest proposed rate hike, incidentally), and the state rebate amount is 1/2 to 1/4 of that offered by other New England states. Even so, it is a strong economic incentive that makes more Maine homeowners able to reduce their energy costs and C02 emissions with solar power.
LD 1403 – Resolve, To Require the Public Utilities Commission To Amend Its Rules Regardiing Net Energy Billing
This Bill includes two changes to statute important to the solar industry:
- Increases cap for net-metered solar projects from 660W to 1MWAn increase on the cap of net-metered solar projects opens the doors for larger, more utility-scale solar projects in Maine (where the largest is currently 170kW). With the changing economics of solar, municipalities, educational institutions, and even utilities are looking towards solar as a way to reduce the cost of electricity. Numerous studies have found that the benefits of net metering far outweight their costs to the utility grid, especially because peak solar power production typically occurs at the same time as peak grid consumption.
- Clarifies that group-purchased solar projects are not ‘Competitive Energy Providers.’This clarification of statute clarifies that 3rd-party owned projects would be eligible for the 30% Federal Income Tax Credit (ITC) for solar projects. The way current state law is written, it unintentionally excludes groups of homeowners or third-party entities from owning solar arrays and selling the power.
LD 1085 – Feed in Tariff
This ambitious bill would introduce a solar Feed in Tariff (FiT) to Maine. Feed in Tariffs are an excellent, market-driven tool for encouraging solar growth that have been extremely effective in Germany, the UK, Spain, and, increasingly, in the United States. NREL highly recommends FiT structures over other forms of subsidies for solar, since the cost is relative to performance and a reflection of the actual savings produced by renewable energy generation.
In short, FiT offers a specific, above-retail rate per kWh benefit for solar generation. Under current net-metering, owners of solar arrays receive a 1:1 credit for solar power they export to the credit. A FiT would allow these homeowners to enjoy a modest income on excess credits, unlike the current system in which you cannot benefit from more electricity than you consume.
LD 1426 – An Act To Improve Maine’s Economy and Lower Energy Costs through Energy Efficiency
This “Energy Efficiency Omnibus Bill” is a bipartisan response to Governor LePage’s energy bill. It seeks to continue RGGI funding for energy efficiency measues and maintain the independence of the Efficiency Maine Trust. It maintains a commitment to “cost-effective energy efficiency savings” but does not seek solely to deliver the lowest cost of energy possible. It maintains more ambitious goals for weatherization, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas reduction targets than that of the opposing bill. The Natural Resources Council of Maine is one of the major proponents of this legislation, and has arguments detailing their position on their website at: http://www.nrcm.org/news_detail.asp?news=5334.
While solar is not directly referenced in the bill, ReVision Energy stands with partners in the Energy Efficiency field who see efficiency as the most cost-effective way to lower energy costs in our region. As a provider of renewable energy, we fully recognize that solar alone is not a solution to our region’s energy problems. However, by combining conservation, efficiency, and renewable generation together, Maine – and all of New England – can effectively cut the noose of fossil fuel dependency.
ReVision Energy will be keeping the pulse on the state house – where a lot is happening this session. In addition to solar policy changes, there are measures to divest the Maine retirement system’s investments in fossil fuels, reject an east-west highway, and put a moratorium on tar sands transport.
We encourage you to get active. Tell your senators and representatives about the issues that are important to you. When legislation directly impacts solar, know that you’ll hear from us when votes are happening, the implications of new law, and analysis about the projected growth of solar in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.