Maine lawmaker calls for PUC to revamp net metering, not legislature
- Republican lawmakers in Maine earlier this week called for the Maine Public Utilities Commission to modify the net metering policy instead of legislation.
- State Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R) helped crafted the bill (L.D. 1649) to revise the state’s net metering policy after the dominant utility hit its 1% cap on net metered installations, but at nearly the last moment, switched his stance, the Portland Press Herald reports.
- Wadsworth argued 400 jobs in Maine’s solar industry depend on net metering, while the new plan, establishes a market-based progroam and promises to create 800 new jobs in the solar sector.
In a surprise twist near the end of Maine’s legislative session, Wadsworth said the PUC would be better suited to modify net metering instead of the Legislature. A Maine law directs the PUC to review the net metering policy after solar generation hits 1% of a utility’s peak load, which happened for Central Maine Power, the state’s dominant electricity provider, last summer and is expected to happen for Emera Maine, the other major electric investor-owned utility, this year.
Wadsworth released a statement to the news outlet telling the PUC to “stay the course on net metering, protect existing solar customers installers and the 400 jobs tied to the solar industry.”
More than half the states and the District of Columbia has some version of net metering in place. The policy credits owners of distributed solar and other distributed generation for excess energy exported to the grid. Maine's net metering policy credited rooftop solar users with a retail rate.
Under the new bill, Central Maine Power (CMP) and Emera, Maine’s regulated utilities, 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.
The new bill was introduced by Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon, (D-Freeport), which seeks to increase Maine's tiny solar sector by more than ten times and replace the existing net metering policy with a market-based program.
In statements during the hearing, Maine’s dominant investor-owned utilities, solar installers and environmental groups endorsed the new plan.
Clean energy advocates said they expect the three commissioners, appointed by Republican Governor Paul LePage, would likely change the net metering, reduce the credit or impose a fixed charge.
National solar installer Sunrun pushed to leave net metering in place alongside the new plan, but the bill's supporters say that is not a politically viable option. Even now, the PUC raised several concerns with the new plan.
PUC Chair Mark Vannoy testified at the hearing that the plan could add $22 million to Maine ratepayers’ electricity bills by 2020 but Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider, who co-wrote the proposal and has done rigorous modeling of its impacts, said it is likely provide $55 million in ratepayer benefits over its 20-year contract period.
If the bill becomes law, The Maine Public Utilities Commission will review the program after 18 months or the procurement of 21 MW, whichever comes sooner.
Supporters of the new bill said it will increase Maine’s current installed solar capacity of 18 MW to 248 MW by 2022.