Bill to halt new solar rules in Maine could face gov's veto

Markets Associated Press

A bill to halt new Maine solar regulations has received bipartisan support, but needs broader backing to survive the Republican governor's veto.

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Republican Sen. Thomas Saviello's bill is making its way through the Legislature; the House voted 90-54 in favor Wednesday.

State utility regulators released solar billing rules this year that drew criticism from solar proponents and skeptics such as Gov. Paul LePage. The governor supports a market-based credit system for solar energy and is a critic of the state's current program that lets solar customers receive fixed bill credits for generated energy.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission said it would maintain current billing rules for existing solar customers for 15 years, while reducing certain bill credits over time.

Saviello's bill would give regulators several years to come up with a new system that would serve as an alternative to so-called net energy billing.

The bill would also allow more customers to participate in a solar array.

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Bill supporter Democratic Rep. Seth Berry said that solar energy lowers costs for all ratepayers, and called on the commission to release the numbers behind its proposed new rule.

"If we fail to act now, the new PUC rule will take effect before this legislature reconvenes in January," Berry said.

"It will severely hamper our ability to control our energy future, to produce new jobs and solar installation and to, over time, reduce our energy costs by having more distributed generation," he said later.

Several House Republicans said the bill would let the rich profit off the poor.

Republican Rep. Beth O'Connor said that the solar industry is overly reliant on federal subsidy and remains too costly and "intermittent."

"In the long run, this would cause financial disaster for Maine electric ratepayers," O'Connor said. She added: "How many jobs will be lost when a false market is created?"

State lobbying reports show that the bill was the subject of lobbying by numerous groups like Central Maine Power, Industrial Energy Consumer Group, Maine Audubon, the Northern New England Solar Industry Alliance and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council, said that the governor's "ideological opposition to solar power remains an enormous barrier and foreshadows a likely veto."