Maine’s interest in energy independence is rooted in some of our greatest natural resources, such as water and wood. Increasingly, more Mainers are turning to another abundant resource — the sun.
All Mainers benefit when homeowners and businesses such as Smith’s Broccoli Farm in Presque Isle, the Paris Autobarn in Paris and GrandyOats Granola in Hiram invest private money in solar. It makes those businesses more competitive by helping stabilize their energy costs. It keeps more of our energy dollars in the local economy. It creates jobs and increases our energy independence and security. And, according to a recent study conducted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, it lowers electricity costs for all ratepayers partly by reducing the need for expensive utility transmission projects to install new poles and wires and large power plants.
Mainers of all political persuasions want more solar and the jobs that a robust solar economy brings. As we continue to lose traditional industry jobs, Maine has an opportunity to unleash the significant job creation potential of solar energy that we have seen in neighboring states with strong solar policy — these are good jobs that encompass engineering, surveying, construction and skilled trades.
Recent polling shows that the vast majority of voters are supportive of Mainers using their own money to invest in solar to protect themselves against future electricity rate increases. This includes support from 94 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 92 percent of independents. Further, 84 percent of Mainers think that when it comes to electricity generation, the consumer should have more energy choices.
Roughly two-thirds of Maine people support our net metering billing mechanism, which enables the right to self-generation and provides a fair credit for excess power sent to neighbors. We are literally leaving money — dollars that could be earned from the valuable renewable energy credits, so sought after by our neighbors to the south — on the table. But the policy does little to provide a structure for the large commercial or municipal installations that can be key to making our businesses more competitive and reducing power costs for our cities and towns.
We have heard you. We recognize that this is a growing segment of Maine’s economy, and we want to put policies in place that allow it to continue to grow. Some parts of Maine’s solar economy are working well and other parts are just barely limping along. We know that neighboring states have a much better solar market than us, potentially giving their businesses an unfair advantage. Reasonable policy can ensure all segments of the solar market are creating good jobs for Mainers.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, we plan on working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to craft and submit legislation that would provide stability to Maine’s solar economy. We intend to stabilize the rooftop solar market by providing for a reasonable extension of our state’s successful solar net metering program while we thoughtfully deliberate and test alternatives for the future — proceedings to initiate new rates take time. In the meantime, we must ensure that consumers and businesses with rooftop solar are compensated fairly with full retail rate net metering. Their private investment has benefited all of us, and we must recognize that.
As policymakers, we should continually think about how we enable innovation and move Maine forward. Our approach also will provide a better pathway for businesses and municipalities to access the savings that solar can bring, and help to make Maine businesses more competitive by allowing them to take charge of their energy costs.
While Maine is not endowed with oil or natural gas, the good news is that we have abundant wood, water and sunlight. Thousands of Mainers have harnessed the power of the sun and invested in solar. Going forward, we should generate more of our electricity from Maine resources and keep more of our energy dollars in the state. We intend to work toward that in January.
Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, served as Senate chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee during the 127th Legislature. Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, was a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.