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March 2, 2017 | last updated March 2, 2017 1:33 pm

Solar power advocates aren't happy with PUC's final rule

Photo / Peter Van Allen
Photo / Peter Van Allen
Maine Beer Co.'s photo-voltaic solar power system at its brewery in Freeport. Under the final order on net metering issued by the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday, credits solar power owners receive under the state's net metering policy for excess power their solar panels generate and supply to the electric utility grid will be gradually phased out.

Solar power advocates wasted no time in voicing strong disapproval of the Maine Public Utilities Commission final order on Wednesday adopting new policies that gradually reduced the credits solar power owners receive under the state's net metering policy for excess power their solar panels generate and supply to the electric utility grid.

The PUC's final order stipulates that those signing up before 2018 will be grandfathered at the current net-metering policy for 15 years, but those who enter the program after that will get reduced credits. The new rules are set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

In its final order the PUC stated the new rules over time "would reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the shifting of transmission and distribution costs from [solar] customers onto [non-solar] customers." It also said the gradual phase-out was designed to track closely with "continuing declining costs of renewable technologies, in particular solar photovoltaic technology."

Rollback 'unworkable'?

"The Maine Public Utilities Commission's new net metering rules include some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation," Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a written statement sent to Mainebiz. "They would roll back solar net metering, destroying good Maine jobs, and harming our economy, our environment, and every Mainer who pays a power bill. … In the wake of the PUC's decision, it is essential that Maine lawmakers pass an effective bill that overturns these rules and puts Maine on track to increase our production and use of solar power."

Voorhees added: "For the first time utilities would charge Maine homes and businesses for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site. In an expensive, unfair, and unworkable new requirement, new solar customers will be forced to install an extra meter on their solar panels (at the expense of all ratepayers) so they can be forced to pay utilities a fee for solar power that never enters the electricity grid. This dangerous, topsy-turvy concept is like a supermarket charging you a fee for vegetables you grow and eat at home.

Voorhees said the NRCM is likely to file a "motion for reconsideration" with the PUC and reiterated earlier statements that the Legislature, not the three-member PUC, is best suited for setting Maine's solar policies.

Sean Mahoney, director of the Conservation Law Foundation of Maine, released the following statement in response to the PUC's action:

"Despite widespread support for an earlier rule that afforded Mainers the opportunity to reap the financial benefits of solar installation, this new rule eliminates financial incentives for solar power and even charges consumers for the energy they save. Imagine you make the decision to save money by using a clothesline rather than a dryer, but at the end of the month you are billed for the energy you saved. That's what the PUC has just done to every family and business that uses solar power. Revoking the incentive structure alone would have been outrageous, but to go one step further and actually charge us for electricity we're not buying is downright criminal."

Read more

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