- A recently-announced proposal to replace Maine's retail rate net metering program with a market-based solar incentive plan faces opposition from the state's governor as its backers work to craft it into a bill.
- Gov. Paul LePage (R) and his energy office oppose the proposal because they argue it does not protect ratepayers who do not own solar from cost shifting. The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) — a national solar lobbying group — is reviewing the legislation and has not yet expressed support.
- Though Maine’s utilities are nearing their current net metering thresholds, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) argues the new plan should include net metering as an option. Energy Office Sr. Planner Lisa Smith argues the plan, even without net metering, subsidizes solar owners at the expense of other ratepayers.
The new bill to be introduced by Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon builds off legislation she supported last year to begin the conversation on how to replace the state’s net energy metering (NEM) policy.
Last summer, Gideon and other lawmakers joined a bipartisan coalition of environmentalists, solar installers, the state consumer advocate and its largest utilities to address two pressing issues in the state: How to continue after Central Maine Power, the dominant utility in the state, hits its looming 1% of peak load net metering cap, triggering a regualtory review, and how to properly value distributed solar.
Under the new bill, Central Maine Power and Emera, would purchase and aggregate solar generation from private solar owners and utility-scale developers under long-term contracts. They would then bid the generation into New England electricity markets in one of the first such fleet aggregations of smaller scale solar.
According to a summary of the bill, existing net metering customers could retain their arrangement for up to 12 years or opt into the new program for a longer term. Aggregators would pay a competitively-set, regulated price through 20-year contracts aimed at covering owner costs. Returns on sales would compensate the utility-aggregators.
Profits from sales by the utility aggregators, termed “Standard Buyers” in the plan, would be distributed evenly among ratepayers. The bill requires the standard buyers to contract for 15 MW of utility-scale solar annually in projects of up to 5 MW.
Contracts for the output of commercial & industrial-scale solar projects would be bid for in a reverse auction and the solar's customer-owners would get bill credits for the arrays’ earnings, according to the bill summary. A reverse auction mechanism invites developers of commercial-industrial and utility scale projects to compete against each other to provide renewables capacity. The buyer, in this case the Standard Buyer, would pick the offers that come in at the lowest prices.
The bill would also require the purchase of 45 MW of community solar projects, each of which can be up to 3 MW in size. Subscriptions of less than 25 kW must be at least 50% of each project’s subscriptions. Subscribers would get a bill credit at the price determined by a reverse auction.
The bill requires 118 MW of solar be procured from residential and small business customers. That is the amount the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates would be built in Maine through 2022 with NEM. Customers could self-consume and/or export excess power to the grid, according to the bill summary.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that TASC opposes the Maine legislation. That was incorrect. The advocacy group is reviewing the legislation and has not yet taken an official stance on the proposal.