Maine is moving forward with new punitive rules to discourage rooftop solar. This comes after three consecutive years of failed legislative solutions and intense lobbying by Governor Paul LePage and the state’s monopoly utilities. The legislature narrowly failed to override the Governor’s veto of a bipartisan bill (LD 1444), despite large margins of support in previous floor votes. This bill would have protected the state’s only pro-solar policy, net-metering, and prevented new taxes on power generated and consumed in Maine homes and businesses. This means that the anti-solar rules approved last year by the Maine Public Utilities Commission will go into effect.
Maine utilities can now replace net metering with a buy-all, sell-all compensation program. Net metering compensation for existing solar users will be reduced by 10% per year. In addition, the new rules will require solar consumers to install a second meter to monitor their electricity generation, paid for by all ratepayers. According to State Representative Heather Sanborn, the cost of installing the additional meters is an estimated $1.5 million in the first year and $3 million in the second year. She said that “those costs far would outstrip the ‘recovery’ savings given back to ratepayers as part of the policy,” and thus potentially increasing electricity rates.
In addition, the rules allow utilities to charge a “delivery fee” on power that solar customers produce and consume on-site, power that never touches the electricity grid. The Public Utility Commission later clarified that this provision only applies to residential rooftop solar customers instead of utility-scale projects.
Solar and consumer advocates are concerned that the new rules will not only undercut the Maine solar market but also serve as a harmful precedent for other states. As the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Seth Berry observed before the vote, “If we fail to act, Maine will become the first place in the world to charge you a fee for producing and using energy in your own home or business and never touching…the grid.” He added that allowing the state’s for-profit major utilities, Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, to levy a fee for solar energy generated privately would be “akin to a grocery store charging for produce a person grows in a garden or a plumber charging for a leak fixed by a homeowner.”
There is one remaining opportunity to stop the new anti-solar rules. The Conservation Law Foundation and other parties have filed a lawsuit. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in December 2017. A decision is expected in the coming months.