In February, Maine legislators announced a bill to replace the state’s net energy metering (NEM) policy with a market-based program, and although several local solar installers and utilities support and helped come up with the alternative, it appears not everyone in the solar industry is satisfied with the proposal.
According to installer Sunrun, “dozens” of solar advocates attended a committee hearing at the Maine legislature on Wednesday and testified that consumers should be allowed the option to choose between NEM and the new program.
In a press release, Sunrun says that net metering is “a time-tested billing mechanism that gives fair credit for the power that solar users send to their neighbors” and Mainers testified that “the proposal gives too much control to monopoly utilities and could lead to new taxes on solar users and higher electricity rates for all customers.”
A bill summary says the legislation would require Maine’s regulated electric utilities to enter into long-term contracts for 248 MW of solar by 2022, with most of the new procurements coming from residential and small business segment. The new program would rely on market-based mechanisms to set the contract prices, which would be locked in for 20 years.
The bill would, indeed, fully eliminate NEM for new customers; however, the summary says existing customers would still be able to stay under current NEM rules 12 years after the new program takes effect.
Nonetheless, Sunrun says it and other solar advocates are requesting that all customers be allowed to choose NEM.
“The solution is to retain net metering as a side-by-side option to ensure that Maine does not lose its some 400 solar jobs, which depend on net metering,” comments Chris Rauscher, director of public policy for Sunrun and a Maine native, in the company release. “Another paper mill announced that it was closing earlier this week. Do we really want to risk hundreds more jobs on an untested policy?”
According to Sunrun, a main concern is that lawmakers wouldn’t “have enough control over the new solar program.”
“The next legislature will not be required to approve the rates coming out of the unelected Public Utilities Commission,” the company says in its release. “This means the rates could be set extremely high or extremely low, without the certainty provided by net metering or legislative review.”
The company also points out that hundreds of solar installers lost their jobs in Nevada after state regulators changed their NEM rules. “Stakeholders are concerned that the same thing could happen in Maine,” says Sunrun.
Shortly before the bill was officially announced, solar advocates delivered a petition with nearly 4,000 signatures to the state legislature, requesting that NEM be preserved.
However, as mentioned, several local solar installers have voiced their support for the NEM replacement and consider the bill a compromise between stakeholders. For example, when the proposal was announced, Fortunat Mueller, partner and co-founder of Revision, said, “ReVision’s top priority is to ensure that residential and small business customers in Maine continue to have a fair opportunity to invest in solar and take control of their own energy future. We think this legislation does that.”