Committee Vote Likely Dooms Maine Solar Energy Bill

Utilities in Maine currently employ net metering, which pays solar users for the power that they send to the overall electrical grid.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

A Maine legislative panel this week split along partisan lines on a proposal to overhaul the state's solar energy system, which virtually ensures that the measure will not become law.

After determining that rooftop solar panels accounted for more than 1 percent of Maine's peak electricity, officials began the process of re-evaluating how the state regulates solar energy — which drew attention from both sides of the debate around the country.

Utilities in Maine, like many others, currently employ net metering, which pays solar users for the power that they send to the overall electrical grid. Utilities argued that the system was unsustainable as solar panels gained more prevalence, while solar energy advocates were skeptical of attempts to alter the model.

Ultimately, stakeholders reached an agreement to replace net metering with payments based on 20-year price agreements with homeowners and small businesses.
 

(AP Photo)(AP Photo)

Although the proposal enjoyed broad support from both utilities and environmental advocates, the bill passed the Maine committee by a 7-5 margin this week with no Republicans in support.

"I am not against solar; I am just against having my neighbor pay for my solar," Rep. Larry Dunphy, who caucuses with Republicans, told the Associated Press.

Democrats control the Maine House — albeit without the two-thirds majority needed to override a promised veto from Republican Gov. Paul LePage — while Republicans control the Senate.

Without legislative action, the issue will return to the state's utilities commission — and its LePage-appointed members. LePage's administration previously called for a "market-based" solution, and proponents of the solar bill predict that the commission will effectively gut net metering entirely.

“It’s going to kill solar,” Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, told the Portland Press Herald. “Solar’s going to come to a standstill.”

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