December 15, 2017
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Maine’s disastrous new solar rules violate our right to energy independence

By Seth Berry, Special to the BDN
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

It’s shocking, but true. Thanks to the actions of a self-proclaimed anti-tax governor, Maine is about to become the first state where electric companies can charge fees for the energy you make and use at your own home or business. This will likely reduce your energy choices and increase energy costs for all Mainers.

In Maine, we take pride in our independence and self-reliance. Many of us still grow our own vegetables or cut our own firewood. We don’t like big government or big corporations coming into our homes and watching us — especially to charge us new taxes or fees.

But under new solar energy rules set to take effect in January, if you dare to make your own energy using solar panels, you’ll be charged fees for that energy. Central Maine Power (or Emera Maine, for some) will now monitor your home energy use and actually charge you for the electricity you make and consume onsite. Implementing these rules also will come with an enormous price tag that will be passed along directly to ratepayers like you and me.

If that sounds wrong, it’s because it is.

Imagine you’ve got a garden in your backyard, and when you decide to harvest your ripe tomatoes, the local grocery store sends you a bill. That’s the logic of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s new solar energy rules. Hand-picked by Gov. Paul LePage, the members of this commission have a critical say in Maine’s energy future.

Many legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — didn’t think the new solar energy rules seemed fair, so we worked diligently on a compromise. We came up with LD 1504, this session’s so-called “solar bill.”

The bill would have banned new fees on the energy consumers generate at home. It would have delayed implementation of the rules and required the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis before coming back to the Legislature with a new proposal.

It also would have lifted barriers to shared projects such as solar farms or community wind or hydro-energy projects, helping renters and others without an appropriate site to share in the benefits of self-generation.

Despite LD 1504 being sponsored by a Republican, amended twice by Republicans, and initially passed with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, it failed on the very last day of this session. A small minority of Republicans — including seven who flipped their votes — in the House sided with LePage to uphold his veto of the bill. As a result, these disastrous rules are set to take effect in January.

It didn’t have to be this way.

LD 1504 would have protected hundreds of good-paying, local jobs in the rooftop solar industry and cleared the way for the creation of many more. It would have recognized our rights as Mainers to produce our own energy.

But, perhaps most importantly, LD 1504 would have saved all ratepayers money.

The more small, distributed generation we have, like rooftop solar panels, the less we need to pay for expensive poles and wires to bring us energy. Our own homegrown energy can help lower costs for everyone.

In fact, the primary driver of today’s rising electricity costs in Maine is continuous building of transmission poles and wires. This “overbuilding” is driven by Central Maine Power profit interests. They are guaranteed at least a 10 percent profit on transmission projects, and as a regulated monopoly, the more they build, the more they are allowed to charge you and me.

It’s not surprising then that Central Maine Power lobbied hard to kill LD 1504, even bringing their CEO to Augusta to personally twist Republicans’ arms on the day of the vote.

To protect your right to produce clean energy and local jobs, we’ll try again when the Legislature returns in January. The only way we’ll succeed is if constituents and ratepayers tell legislators they oppose Maine’s new, first-in-the-world fee on energy produced and used at home.

 

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is a former House Majority Leader and currently House Chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

 


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