The Gorham Times, Gorham, Maine's Community Newspaper

Last week, after months of work toward a bipartisan compromise that would have put affordable solar power within reach for more Maine people and businesses, politics won the day. In a vote of 88 to 48, just three votes short, the House was unable to override the governor’s veto of LD 1504, An Act Regarding Solar Power for Farms and Businesses.

Right now, people who have made the investment in solar power have had to shoulder the entire cost of making the switch, except for a small benefit known as “net-metering.” Net-metering eases the cost burden for solar customers by counting the energy they contribute back to the grid when they pay for any electricity they use when the sun isn’t out. It makes sense and it’s only fair. Unfortunately, the Public Utilities Commission decided to eliminate net-metering in their latest round of rule making.

This year’s compromise bill would have prohibited the PUC from going forward with its replacement to net-metering, called “gross metering.” Instead, it would allow all owners of rooftop solar to continue with net-metering for 15 years, provided they have applied by December 31 of this year. For those applying in 2018, net-metering would continue but with a 10% reduction in the credit for the transmission and distribution portion of the ratepayer’s bill. For 2019, this reduction would be 20%.

The bill also would have lifted a cap on the number of meters in a community solar project that would have allowed more people to collectively invest in solar.

Maine people are struggling to keep up with high energy costs. We should be focused on increasing access to sustainable sources of energy. Once the up-front costs are out of the way, solar panels can save Mainers thousands of dollars a year in energy costs. Just think what that could do for Maine’s economy if more Maine families could afford to install solar systems.

Solar power is an essential element to a responsible energy policy for Maine. It’s past time to make that idea a reality. Maine is lagging behind in New England and much of the rest of the country in solar energy capacity. Vermont is already able to power 35,000 homes with the 196 MW of solar power they harness. In Massachusetts, the contrast is even more stark at 1,592 MW. If you look at a map of solar plants in New England, you can barely see Massachusetts for all of the yellow suns marking the locations of the plants.

Why is it then, with virtually the same climate, Maine generates only 11% of Vermont’s total and even worse, a mere 1% of Massachusetts’ output?

While I’m certainly disappointed with the failure of LD 1504, I’m still committed to working toward a sensible solar policy for Maine that puts us on an even footing with our neighbors and invests in a bright future for our state.