Good incentives for home solar are needed

November 18, 2017

It is disappointing that our Governor vetoed LD 1504 this year. The proposed legislation would
have replaced a bad policy adopted by the Public Unities Commission that will sadly reduce
incentives for people to install solar panels to get low cost clean electricity for their homes and
businesses. Good incentives for home solar are needed.

It is very important that Maine and the world quickly install facilities to generate clean electrical
energy that does not come from burning fossil fuel, especially coal. The United States and the
State of Maine should both do their share to achieve this. Currently, Maine is using a higher
percentage of electricity made from fossil fuel than any other New England state. We should do
better. Hydroelectric and wind power are good alternatives and Maine does do a lot of that, but a
lot of our electricity comes from burning petroleum and natural gas.

Legislation proposed in 2016 was more comprehensive than LD 1504. This was also vetoed by
our Governor. Among other things it included the concept that Central Maine Power Company
and Emera (formerly Bangor Hydro), the two corporations that distribute electricity throughout
Maine, be allowed to generate solar electricity.

For many decades, until sometime in the 1990’s, these corporations (regulated by the Maine
Public Utilities Commission) were allowed to generate all of the electricity that they distributed
through their wires. The Maine Legislature took this opportunity away from them. They were
required to sell their generating capacity to companies that did not distribute electricity in Maine,
such as Florida Power and Light. This gave consumers an opportunity to take bids from
companies who had bought the generating facilities in Maine, or from other generators that
might not be in Maine that wanted to bid with different prices at different times of day. Large
consumers, such as factories that operated 24 hours a day, could get lower prices during the time
of day when demand was less, generally during nighttime. Others had to pay more for their
electricity because they used it mostly when the demand was high and more expensive. Several
Maine sawmills that did not operate 24 hours a day shut down because of this. Sadly, many of
the paper companies who benefited from this arrangement have now gone out of business.
The total cost of electricity for Maine increased because the companies that bought the
hydroelectric and other generating facilities borrowed money to buy them and had to pay it back
with interest. Most of the money that Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro (now Emera) had
borrowed to build these generating systems, many years ago, had already been paid for once by
those that had used the electricity. Customers now had to pay for it again.

The state did establish a good system to help smaller customers get the best price possible for
electricity which is called “The Standard Offer”. Each year, under supervision of the PUC, the
company that distributes the electricity, Central Maine Power or Emera, takes bids and works out a price that is the same for all times of day and for the entire year. Some of this electricity may
be generated in other New England states.

This price could be lower if Central Maine Power and Emera were allowed to use large scale
solar farms in Maine for this purpose. Solar electricity can be generated when the sun is
shining which is when the demand for electricity is usually greater and higher cost fossil fuel
must be used. This use of large scale solar could reduce the price of the Standard Offer to
consumers and reduce the amount of pollution in the air that is caused by burning fossil fuel.
People using the standard offer would save money.

This would also help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air that contributes to climate
change throughout the world. This would reduce the rate at which the glaciers melt, which
causes the oceans to rise and become more acidic. It would reduce the dryness and drought
being experienced in California and other parts of the world, which interferes with growing food.
We need to quickly transition the world to renewable solar electricity.

Elery Keene is a member of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Board of Directors. He serves as
team leader for the Public Policy Team and is a member of the Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Team and the Transportation Team.

Last modified: November 18, 2017

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