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Maine PUC kicks off process that could spur widespread solar development

Photo / Maureen Milliken Solar arrays like this municipal one in Waldoboro, installed by Sundog Solar, are expected to become more common as the PUC has opened the procurement process for developers of arrays under 5 MW. The bill allowing more flexibility for selling energy from smaller arrays was sponsored by state Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro.
How will the procurement process work?
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The Maine Public Utilities Commission has started a process that's expected to open the door for growth in the state's solar energy industry.

The procurement process for renewable energy projects that opened Friday is part of a three-bill clean energy package passed by the Legislature last year. It looks to add a total of 375 megawatts of power through projects of less than 5 MW, for commercial, industrial and community use. Renewable energy developers would enter 20-year contracts to sell the energy with Central Maine Power or Emera Maine, depending on their location in the state.

The commission is seeking proposals from solar and other renewable energy developers. There will be five procurement rounds, each for 20% of the expected total megawatts, with a final breakdown of 125 MW commercial/industrial and 250 MW shared projects. This first round is for projects totaling 25 MW in the commercial/industrial sector and 50 MW in the community-shared sector.

There's already been a lot of interest from the industry, and the PUC expects "many competive bids," said Commission Chairman Philip L. Bartlett II in a news release announcing the procurement process opening. 

“We understand the importance of this program as part of the state’s policy to encourage development of renewable resources and to move Maine toward a cleaner and more sustainable energy future," Bartlett said.

The procurement process stems from LD 1711, signed by Gov. Janet Mills in June, raised the net metering cap, allowing arrays of up to 5 MW — 5,000 KW — to sell or store excess energy. The previous net metering limit was 660 kilowatts.

Raising the cap is what makes renewable energy development viable for investors, developers and municipalities. The law aims to not only lower the state's dependence on fossil fuels to generate electricity, but is also expected to create 500 jobs in the coming years as projects are developed, supporters said.

“This new law allows medium sized projects like schools and municipalities to get into the solar market and many larger solar companies are excited about the jobs it will create here in Maine,” state Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoro, who sponsored the bill, said when it was signed in June.

Dow's town, Waldoboro, has a 110 KW array installed by Sundog Solar that provides much of the town's energy. Under the law, towns like Waldoboro, Tremont, Belfast, Portland,. South Portland and other with municipal arrays can increase kilowatt hours, and save extra energy for later use, or sell it.

What the PUC is looking for

The PUC is looking for bidders to convey all the output of the distributed generation resource, including energy, capacity, renewable energy certificates; and all environmental attributes and market products that are available or may become available  from the energy development. 

Developers of any renewable energy may bid, but the project must be a distributed generation resource, "which means a discrete electric generating facility with a nameplate capacity of less than 5 megawatts that uses a renewable fuel or technology," according to the PUC. It must also be located in the service territory of an investor-owned transmission and distribution utility in the state. 

The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, March 11, and notice of awards is scheduled for Aug. 31.

The law also requires that community shared projects serve low- and moderate-income customers; encourages development of landfill and brownfield projects.

The PUC on Feb. 14 also issued a request for proposals for renewable energy companies looking to sell energy credits to CMP and Emera, stemming from another of the clean energy laws Mills signed, which looks to increase 

The law, LD 1494, looks to increase the states renewable energy portfolio standard — the amount of renewable electricity sold in the state as opposed to that created by fossil fuels — from 40% to 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Those proposals are due April 10.

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