Solar sticker shock

As sticker shock for solar power looms, Maine lawmakers consider options…
Two bills now before the Legislature are aimed at reducing future sticker shock for electricity customers, without completely eroding the incentives that have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in solar investment from across the world in the past few years.

If passed, the bills, L.D. 634 and L.D. 1026, would amend Maine’s net energy billing rules, which dictate how certain classes of solar developers are paid for the power generated by their projects…

One estimate from the Public Utilities Commission calculated that delivery rates could rise more than 44% by 2025, if projects totaling 1,667 megawatts of capacity come online. But if solar reimbursements are trimmed as proposed in L.D. 634 and all proposed projects are built, delivery rates could still rise 35% or so, according to Harwood’s estimates.



How this will play out in the Legislature is uncertain. The two solar bills garnered divided reports in the legislative committee that handles energy and utility matters. And it’s not a simple ideological split among Democrats, Mills and Republicans. Rather, some Democrats disagree about the best path forward to both protect consumers and encourage renewable energy development.

It would be valuable if the final outcome includes fixed-rate contracts for solar development, reducing the chance of big future price swings, in the view of Philip Bartlett, the PUC’s chair.

Before 2019, the state’s net energy billing program was set up largely to encourage smaller, rooftop solar systems. It has morphed into what Bartlett called “automatic, variable-rate, 20-year contracts” for larger projects, with no PUC oversight.…