Panels at a solar farm next to the Tremont town office. Credit: Bill Trotter

Earlier this year, lawmakers moved to revise misguided rules that were stifling demand for solar power in Maine. Now, they can take the next step by enacting policies to increase the state’s supply of solar energy.

LD 1711 will promote solar energy development and make this clean energy source more available to businesses, schools, towns and lower income residents.

It is the logical next step to the bill, signed into law in April, that fixed solar energy metering.

“With this proposal it is my hope to bring the benefits of solar to more Mainers, from businesses to families with more limited incomes,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, told members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee earlier this month.

LD 1711 would increase the availability of and access to solar power in many ways. The most fundamental is to direct the Maine Public Utilities Commission to increase the supply of what is known as distributed generation, which is power that is produced near where it is used rather than in a central location. Rooftop solar and solar arrays are examples of distributed generation, which can be located at homes, schools, manufacturing facilities and other businesses as well as in brownfield sites, landfills and other locations.

The bill would also expand access to community solar farms. Under current law, community solar projects are limited to nine people, a restrictive cap that is holding back new solar projects. The bill raises the cap to 200.

It would also allow low- and moderate-income residents to buy into community solar projects, making the cleaner energy source available to people who don’t own a house or can’t afford to put solar panels on their homes. Residents involved in eight low-income solar projects in Colorado reduced their electricity bills by 15 to 50 percent, according to the Colorado Energy Office.

With less than 1 percent of its energy generated from solar sources, Maine ranks 43rd in the country for its solar capacity. This leaves the state lots of room to grow, especially in terms of jobs in the solar industry. According to an analysis of LD 1711 by the Coalition for Community Solar Access, the bill could nearly double the number of solar energy-related jobs in Maine, adding $157 million to the state economy.

The solar bill dovetails with another piece of legislation, and state plans, to increase the amount of renewable power used by Maine residents and businesses. LD 1494, sponsored by Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, would increase the required amount of retail electricity in Maine that must come from renewable sources. The bill increases the amount of new electricity purchased in Maine that must be from renewable sources from 10 percent currently to 50 percent by 2030. These increases are on top of a long-standing requirement that 30 percent of Maine’s electricity come from renewable standards.

Taken together, these requirements align with Gov. Janet Mills pledge to increase Maine’s renewable energy use to 80 percent by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Producing and using more renewable energy in Maine will bring economic, environmental and health benefits to the state’s residents and businesses. These two bills are important pieces of a plan to move Maine to a cleaner energy future.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...