Maine renews net metering as lawmakers prep new clean energy, utility reform bills
Maine lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill to eliminate gross metering in the state and reestablish net metering for solar customers, sending it to Gov. Janet Mills, D, for likely signature.
The bill restores "decades old policy of net metering" which was "rolled back in a very awkward fashion" under the previous administration, said State Rep. Seth Berry, D, the legislation's primary sponsor. It passed the House 93-48 Thursday after approval from the Senate earlier in the week.
Upcoming energy legislation will likely aim to boost the state's renewable portfolio standard, move forward with offshore wind and lower barriers to solar deployment, Berry told Utility Dive. There are also discussions around legislation that would purchase the state's two investor owned utilities (IOUs) and move instead toward a customer-owned utility model, he said.
The elimination of gross metering in Maine marks a shift in legislative priorities for the state, which clean energy advocates say has struggled through eight years of inaction or rollbacks on renewable power policy.
LD 91 reestablishes retail rate net metering, which credits rooftop solar customers for the energy they supply to the grid, benefiting those customers and encouraging deployment of the resource.
"LD 91 is not a solution in and of itself. It is simply a re-correction in the near term," Vaughan Woodruff, president of solar installer Insource Renewables, told Utility Dive. "We are a state that has significant economic development challenges and we have really missed the boat thus far on the economic development opportunity of solar."
Last month, Mills signed an executive order ending a wind moratorium that had been put in place by former Gov. Paul LePage, R. Clean energy was a major component of Gov. Mills' campaign and contention over solar policy "was a big part" of the state's Democratic sweep that took over the governor's seat and both chambers of the legislature, according to Berry.
"There was a lot of frustration from many parts of the ideological spectrum about the policy of gross metering and the anti-renewable policies that had been a prevalent under the last administration for the last eight years or so," he said.
The distributed solar legislation "is only the beginning," Berry said. Between lack of customer choice and barriers to clean energy deployment, the state has a lot of policy considerations in play.
Moving forward, legislation will focus on lifting those "arbitrary barriers" to solar deployment, particularly for commercial investment, said Woodruff, who was involved in policy discussions crafting LD 91.
"Hanging out with folks in California, they're like on graduate level solar policy. It feels like at times we're still in the sandbox eating crayons. And so I feel like this will give us the opportunity to really sit down and be thoughtful" he said.
Another consideration is ensuring ratepayers are given more diversity and choice when it comes to generating power, said Berry.
"Mainers really liked the idea of being able to generate our own power," he said. "And the utilities have really stood in the way of efficiency and distributed resources for decades now. So there's been a long build up of a frustration with that."
One avenue of protecting ratepayers would be a dramatic shift to the state's current utility model: Maine would buy both IOUs, moving toward a consumer-owned utility instead.
While language hasn't been written, Berry said conversations among major stakeholders, including commercial and industrial ratepayers, utility workers and ratepayer organizations indicate support for the concept.
"It's a heavy lift," said Woodruff. "If that bill passes and we forced the sale of the investor owned utilities in the state of Maine, it would be one of the most shocking things to see in a single legislative session in Augusta, related to energy, that I've seen in my time there.
"It's coming faster than I expected," he added. "It's something that a number of us have been talking about for a while and I'm pleased to see it brought to the table so people can consider other options that are out there."
Another potential shift to the utility model in the state would be to move away from quantity-based rates, toward a more reliability-based metric, said Woodruff.
"The days of the one monolithic utility that delivered power in one direction from far distance centralized generation sources is a dinosaur," said Berry. "It's a relic of the late 19th, early 20th century. And we're ready to move beyond that."
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