Maine lawmakers fail to override LePage veto of solar incentive bill

Dive Brief:

  • Maine lawmakers last week failed to overturn a veto from Gov. Paul LePage (R) on a bill that would have replaced retail rate net metering for rooftop solar customers with a market-based incentive program. The 96-52 vote Friday morning on L.D. 1649 fell two votes short of the number needed to overrule the veto. 
  • The incentive plan, ordered by state legislators last year over another LePage veto, was designed to grow Maine’s current 18 MW installed solar capacity to 196 MW by 2021 by supporting growth of most valuable solar opportunities in each market segment. It was supported by the state's investor-owned utilities along with a group of solar companies and environmental groups. 
  • Gov. LePage’s veto letter said the bill would increase costs for Maine non-solar owners and that he had “tried to negotiate in good faith with Democrats.” House Majority Leader Sara Gideon (D) said failure to override the veto was a loss for Maine’s solar industry, job growth, and new investment.

Dive Insight:

The governor had proposed changes to the bill, including the inclusion of other resources in the incentive program and a cap on the price in long-term contracts. But that last request was a dealbreaker for solar companies in the state, the Portland Press Herald reports, who pointed out they had already accepted concessions on the bill. 

The Maine solar bill had attracted attention beyond the state's borders for its novel structure and broad support from utilities and local solar companies alike. If passed, the state's utilities would purchase and aggregate generation from private solar owners and utility-scale developers alike under long-term contracts. They would then bid the generation into New England electricity markets in one of the first such fleet aggregations of multi-scale solar.

Incentives for solar owners would step down as prices decrease and penetration increases. The plan was thought of by many in the sector as a possible precedent for the numerous states debating solar incentive policies.

While supported by a variety of Maine solar installers, not everyone in the industry was satisfied with the bill. The Alliance for Solar Choice, an advocacy group representing national solar installers, did not fully support L.D. 1649. While none of its members currently do business in Maine, TASC pushed for the inclusion of retail rate net metering alongside the new incentive structure, saying some would likely expand to the state in the future. 

With the bill's failure, the net metering debate will now be kicked back to the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) because the state's utilities are at or near caps on the program that limit net metered systems to 1% of peak load. 

Filed Under: Solar & Renewables Distributed Energy Regulation & Policy
Top image credit: Mark Goebel flickr