Maine lawmakers near approval of solar incentive bill, but still lack votes for veto override

Dive Brief:

  • By large bipartisan majorities, each house of the Maine legislature approved an amended version of LD 1649, a bill designed to replace the state's net metering program with a market-based incentive structure and grow the state's solar resource from the current 18 MW to 196 MW by 2021. The reconciled version still faces final approval votes in each chamber.
  • After the Maine House gave initial approval to the original solar incentive plan earlier this week, supporters picked up 10 votes on Thursday when the House approved the amended plan 96-56. Even so, the bill's backers still remain below the number of votes they need to override an expected veto by Gov. Paul LePage (R), the Portland Press Herald reports.
  • Under the plan, the state's utilities would purchase distributed solar power under long-term contracts, bidding the aggregated generation into New England electricity markets. Solar owners would receive a series of incentives that would decline as the cost of generation drops and deployment grows. 

Dive Insight:

Backers of an innovative solar incentive bill in Maine gained some votes this week as a group of Republicans and one Independent shifted their support in a House vote Thursday, the Press Herald reports. But whether the backers in each chamber will be able to wrangle the votes to override an expected gubernatorial veto remains to be seen.

The key amendments, offered by former bill opponents Sen. David Woodsome (R) and Rep. Norman Higgins (R), would cut the program length from five to four years, reduce growth targets, and provide guidance to regulators for setting distributed solar prices.

Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office opposes the plan and he is expected to veto. Bill supporters hope to find enough votes to override, according to Timothy Schneider, head of the Maine Office of the Public Advocate

The bill is backed by a diverse coalition of groups, including Maine’s dominant electric utilities, its biggest solar installers, its public advocate, and its leading environmental groups.

The amended bill would reduce the residential solar target from 118 MW to 70 MW and cap contract prices for large-scale solar below the price paid for residential solar generation, which would be determined by the PUC. 

While the old bill called for 20-year contracts for solar generation, another amendment would allow the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to choose between 15- and 20-year contracts for distributed solar. Regulators would also choose whether to set flat-rate contracts for solar or increase remuneration for distributed systems over time — whichever it determines are better for ratepayers.

A third amendment also increases the target commercial-industrial solar growth by 20 MW and sets aside a total of 8 MW in the residential, commercial-industrial, and community solar segments for agricultural businesses.

The compromise bill also calls for regulators to recommend a successor DG compensation tariff to the legislature before the program’s 2021 termination.

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