- Because Maine’s dominant electric utilities are at their net energy metering (NEM) caps and the legislation designed to replace NEM was just vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage (R), communities and solar buyers across the state are withdrawing plans to build or putting their plans on hold, the Portland Press Herald reports.
- Without either incentive plan, a group of municipalities’ re re-evaluating plans for solar arrays on landfills that backers say would bring millions of investment dollars into the communities and provide solar-generated electricity to reduce electricity costs in public buildings and facilities.
- The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is required by law to reconsider NEM because the caps have been reached. The PUC could increase the amount of solar eligible for the retail rate credit, reduce the credit, or cancel the program, according to Tim Schneider, head of the Office of Public Advocate.
Many of the solar projects planned for landfills are sized at 660 kW, which would allow them to qualify for the NEM credit.
The alternative policy was passed by the legislature with two less votes than were needed to override LePage’s veto. Drafted by a coalition of local solar installers, leading lawmakers, the public advocate, Maine's utilities, and environmental groups, it was designed grow Maine solar from its present 18 MW to 196 MW by 2021 by instituting a new market-based incentive structure.
Under the plan, the state's regulated utilities would purchase and aggregate solar generation from rooftop and utility-scale developers under long-term contracts and bid the solar generation into New England electricity markets. The bill would also have opened commercial-industrial, community, and utility-scale solar development to competitive bidding subject to caps.
But while much of the local solar industry supported the new incentive bill, national solar installers worried it could set a precedent for other states seeking to replace retail rate net metering policies with alternative incentive programs.
After pushing for inclusion of net metering alongside the new incentive, national installers including SolarCity and Sunrun lobbied against the bill, according to the Portland Press Herald. Sunrun reportedly donated $5,500 to lawmakers who voted against the bill, which a spokesperson said would have given too much power to utilities.
Local solar installers worry the PUC’s decision on NEM will make things worse. CEO Fortunat Mueller of ReVision Energy, the state's biggest installer, said the bill’s defeat may allow the commission to severely reduce the credit or impose charges that impede solar.