TO PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE LIVING PRACTICES IN THE MID MAINE REGION

What’s Up with Maine’s Solar Market?

June 7, 2016

This is the time of the year when solar often becomes a hot topic in Maine. Homeowners and

businesses are getting settled in to a good stretch of weather, and projects that have been

pondered during the winter begin to be put into action. This often prompts phone calls to

contractors, including those who install solar energy systems.

This year solar was a hot topic long before the freezing temperatures disappeared, due largely

to solar legislation that was introduced, amended, approved, and successfully vetoed by the

governor during this year’s short legislative session. The final outcome of the solar bill has

been well documented, and the opinion page has been filled with reactions to the bill’s defeat.

Many questions remain for those who have invested in solar for their homes or businesses and

for those considering a solar investment in 2016. Existing owners are asking, “Will the PUC

change my relationship with Central Maine Power?” Potential buyers are weighing the risks of

buying today under current rules that allow net metering and the unknown world of tomorrow

where this mechanism may or may not be an option. If it is not, many of these same buyers

are trying to determine whether there is a benefit to buying a system today with the hope that it

will be grandfathered tomorrow.

It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

There are few markets in which uncertainty is a good thing, and the solar market is no

exception. Solar buyers are already taking a perceived risk by making an upfront investment to

generate their own electricity instead of simply paying CMP monthly. If electricity rates

increase, this risk reaps some significant dividends. If electricity rates stay rather stagnant, the

system still provides benefit – just not as much. With certainty, this decision to buy solar is one

that more and more customers are making.

As customers navigate this uncertainty, often the most informed party in the discussion is the

solar salesperson. Given the gravity of the decisions being made in Augusta, many of Maine’s

solar companies were highly active in discussions regarding the bill and have now turned their

attention to the upcoming PUC deliberations.

While there is benefit to having a well-informed salesperson, there are few Mainers who are

big fans of putting that much trust in someone who has a financial stake in the transaction.

This has created a challenging dynamic in Maine’s solar industry.

Sustain Mid Maine Coalition is working on a solution to this challenge. As part of its Solarize

Mid Maine program, which reduces the installed cost of solar for area homes and businesses,

Sustain Mid Maine is hosting “The Future of Solar Energy in Maine” forum on June 23 rd at

6:30pm at the Diamond Building on the campus of Colby College. The event is the second in a

series of statewide forums that bring together leaders in Maine to discuss the current status of

Maine’s solar market.

Scheduled panelists include Tim Schneider from the Office of the Public Advocate, Vaughan

Woodruff from the Committee on Renewable Energy, and Dylan Voorhees of the Natural

Resources Council of Maine. The event will be kicked off by Senator Roger Katz of Augusta

and will be moderated by Steve Kahl. The forum will provide for a dialogue between the

panelists and the audience.

As we await this important discussion, there are some things that we do know about the

existing market:

 Full retail net metering remains the status quo. Net metering allows solar customers

to receive a credit for each kilowatt-hour that is exported to the grid. Current net

metering policy in Maine requires the utilities to provide a credit at the full retail rate,

which includes the electricity supply charge and the transmission and distribution (T&D)

charge.

 The PUC will begin its review of net metering in the coming months. When net

metering was established in Maine, language was included to trigger a review once the

capacity of net metered systems exceeded 1% of the peak load in an electrical utility’s

service territory. In January, CMP submitted a request to the PUC that it review net

metering based on this rule.

 The PUC process is expected to extend into late 2016. While no timeline has been

set, it is expected that it will be late-fall to early-winter before a conclusion is reached by

the PUC. This process will likely have comment periods and at least one public hearing.

 Grandfathering of existing net energy billing customers is expected. When the

PUC rules on net metering, there is a strong expectation from most of the parties

involved in the proceeding that customers with net metering arrangements will be able

to continue those agreements. This is by no means a certainty, but there have not been

any proposals to-date by key parties in the discussion that would revoke existing net

metering agreements.

 Net metering could be modified by the PUC. There are three likely outcomes of the

PUC review: continue net metering, eliminate it, or modify it. Of these three outcomes,

the decision to modify net metering appears quite plausible, though not certain.

 Solar legislation will be introduced again. Regardless of the outcome of the PUC

process, it is expected that the diverse parties that rallied in support of the recent solar

bill will continue to pursue legislative avenues to provide some certainty in Maine’s solar

market.

We hope you’ll join us on June 23 rd to learn more about the future of solar in Maine. FMI about

this event, contact Linda at sustainmidmaine@gmail.com.

This piece was written by members of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Energy Team. John

Reuthe is the team leader.

Last modified: March 7, 2017

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