net metering

Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court is weighing the future of incentives for residential solar power. The court heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge to state regulators’ efforts to reduce and eventually phase out those incentives.

The case for maintaining more generous incentives for solar installations was argued not by a solar operator, but by an attorney for some of the state’s largest industrial energy consumers, such as paper mills, that aren’t actually in the solar power business at all.

State regulators have granted a temporary reprieve for installers of small solar generation projects in Maine. It’s the latest shoe-drop in the ongoing controversy over the way those small-scale generators are compensated for excess electricity they provide.

For decades, Maine has offered solar projects credits for electricity they generate beyond what is used on-site. Early this year, the state Public Utilities Commission created a new rule that would reduce the value of those credits over time.

Susan Montoya Bryan / Associated Press

The fight over incentives for solar power installations in Maine enters a new phase this month.

New, less-generous incentives for solar installations set by the Maine Public Utilities Commission kick in on Jan. 1. But before then, parties on all sides are asking for some clarity.

Solar installers, for instance, want a ruling that any customer who asks to connect a new solar array to the grid by the end of this month will qualify for this year’s comparatively generous incentives. Central Maine Power says only installations that are actually up and running should qualify.

Mal Leary / Maine Public

An overflow crowd turned out for a legislative committee hearing Thursday as supporters and opponents of incentives for solar power development in Maine squared off.

A broad coalition of solar power businesses, environmental advocates and industrial energy users want state regulators to reconsider new rules for solar power adopted earlier this year. But the move may just be a prelude to litigation — or legislative action.

In January Maine’s Public Utilities Commission ordered a 15-year ramp-down of credits rooftop solar users can earn when they put excess electricity on the power grid, often called “net metering.”

State regulators Tuesday approved new rules for the incentives received by Maine residents who install solar-power systems.

AUGUSTA, Maine - State utility regulators are changing Maine's solar energy rules despite pushback from solar groups.
 
Owners of solar energy grids get credits on their energy bill for the energy they send back to the system. But critics, including GOP Gov. Paul LePage, say the current system means electricity customers are unfairly subsidizing the solar industry.
 

PORTLAND, Maine - Backers of solar power fired a preemptive shot today in the latest battle over so-called "net metering."  That's the practice of having utilities pay retail prices for excess power purchased from solar panel owners. 

Andrew LaVogue of Environment Maine said there's a "network of fossil fuel and utility-backed organizations" that are campaigning against the spread of solar power.

Maine regulators are proposing changes to the way the state’s solar power producers are compensated for excess energy they put on the grid, and it’s more generous than what Gov. Paul LePage has put forth.

The draft proposal from the Maine Public Utilities Commission would give existing solar power producers a 15-year “grandfather” period during which they can continue to earn the same rates for excess power they put on the grid.

That’s much longer than the three years LePage has proposed.

Gov. Paul LePage is proposing a three-year “grandfather” period to allow Maine residents who have installed solar panels to recover some of their upfront investment through a practice called net metering. After that, he wants to end the program. The governor’s new proposal is drawing swift criticism from the solar industry.

Under net metering, residential solar generators can get a credit on their electric bill for excess electricity that they put back into the power grid. Over time, those credits can help cover the cost of the original investment, for, say, solar panels.

A.J. Higgins / MPBN

The state of Maine is expected to review the way that solar energy system owners are credited for the electricity that they add to the grid, a process known as “net metering.” Solar advocates worry that the the state’s Public Utilities Commission could make changes that would effectively pull the plug on the state’s solar market.

Fred Bever / MPBN

After a big legislative fight over regulations for mid- and small-scale solar power projects in Maine, a key issue affecting the solar industry now heads to the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Solar installers and customers are wondering whether a major shift in the regulatory climate is underway, and whether it could dim the prospects for a sector whose future once seemed so bright.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine's rooftop solar installers and the state's major utilities have set aside their long-standing difference to strike a deal they say could increase solar power in the state tenfold in five years.

National solar installation firms are trying to stop it.

The Alliance for Solar Choice, a national group, and California-based Sunrun and SolarCity want to kill a key part of the plan as it moves through the Maine Legislature.

PORTLAND, Maine - Solar power advocates were in Augusta today to persuade Maine lawmakers to adopt new rules they say will preserve and expand the industry in Maine.  

Under proposed legislation, existing solar customers could continue to be credited under existing rules for the power they send to the electric grid, through 2029. New solar customers would be compensated under rates set in a long-term contract – a method backers say will encourage more solar development.

Advocates of solar power in Maine, and around the country, are taking steps to preserve a financial incentive they say is critical to the continued growth of the industry.