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August 3, 2017

LePage veto of solar bill sustained, leaving PUC rules in place

Photo / Peter Van Allen
Photo / Peter Van Allen
Maine Beer Co.'s photo-voltaic solar power system at its brewery in Freeport. Lawmakers on Wednesday failed to override Gov. Paul LePage's veto of a solar bill that would have extended incentives for small companies and residences.

A solar power bill that had received bipartisan approval when it was approved this spring died Wednesday when lawmakers failed to override Gov. Paul LePage's veto.

Seven Republicans changed their position from their prior support of LD 1504, "An act to modernize rates for small-scale distributed generation," and voted Wednesday to sustain LePage's veto. The Senate voted 28-6 to override LePage, while the House's 88-48 tally, with 14 members absent, was three votes short of the two-thirds needed to override.

The bill was widely supported by solar power advocates who regard the Maine Public Utilities Commission's new solar energy policy adopted on March 1 as having a chilling effect on the state's solar industry.

With the veto being sustained, the PUC's net metering policy that gradually phases out incentives to encourage solar power by residential and small business customers remains in place.

What the bill would have done

Under the PUC's net energy billing rule, existing solar power customers are grandfathered for 15 years under the current incentives. But new solar customers will gradually see the solar incentives reduced over the next decade.

As amended, the bill would have required a net energy billing customer to receive 100% credit for the power produced on their transmission and distribution bill until Dec. 31, 2021.

It also prohibited utilities such as Central Maine Power and Emera Maine from requiring a customer to meter the gross output of their solar panels in order to participate in net energy billing.

It would have expanded the limit on community solar farms from the current 10 customers up to 200.

Finally, the bill would have required the PUC to amend its current net energy billing rules before Jan. 1, 2018 and submit a report by Jan. 1, 2021 that includes recommendations on how to transition from net energy billing to time-of-use rates, market-based rates or other rate design options. In its report, the bill required the PUC to analyze costs and benefits of net energy billing.

Environmental groups decry vote

Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, characterized the successfully vetoed solar bill as a "significant compromise, crafted almost exclusively by Republican lawmakers and falling far short of the comprehensive solar bill considered in 2016" that LePage also successfully vetoed.

"At the strong urging of the governor, lawmakers today voted to raise electric bills, deny Mainers good jobs, generate more pollution, stall Maine's transition to clean energy, and make it harder for Maine people and businesses to generate their own solar power," Voorhees said in a statement issued after the vote.

Voorhees concluded: "This failure leaves Maine with an arbitrary 10-person limit on community solar farms and allows the backward, extreme PUC rule on net metering to take effect. This rule will cost all Mainers who pay an electricity bill millions of dollars in the coming years, regardless of whether or not they have solar. Those voting to sustain today now must take responsibility for the increased costs on all ratepayers to implement this broken rule."

Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation also released a statement following the unsuccessful vote to override LePage's veto.

"Today's failure is one that has a direct impact on the wallets of businesses and families across our state," said CLF attorney Emily Green. "Despite the bill's overwhelming passage in June and widespread public support, clean energy in Maine has once again fallen victim to Gov. LePage's and utilities' anti-progress stance. Regardless of this regressive decision by the legislature, CLF will continue fighting to ensure that solar power has a bright future in Maine."

CLF has joined with several other groups in filing a legal appeal in Maine Supreme Judicial Court over the PUC's solar energy rule adopted on March 1.

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