“Liberals in the legislature are congratulating themselves for passing the solar bill. This is a perfect example of what is wrong in Augusta.” So said Governor Paul LePage (R) of Maine during an official radio address shortly before vetoing An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development (LD No. 1649) on April 27. The legislation had been passed easily on the State’s House (91-56) and Senate (35-0) floors.
The measure had been designed to replace Maine’s current net metering program with an initiative that would require regulated utilities to seal long-term contracts to buy and aggregate distributed solar generation from a range of providers statewide – from rooftop owner-generators to utility scale developers. The aggregated generation would then be sold by the utilities into the New England wholesale power markets. This would have been the first time a state authorized aggregation of rooftop-scale solar generation for the wholesale markets.
The governor had negotiated with the bill’s supporters, including Representative Sara Gideon (D-Freeport), the sponsor of the legislation, but had failed to find common ground. “We are all keeping our eyes on the prize. That prize is the truly good legislation that came out of an incredibly collaborative effort,” said Gideon, adding, “We can grow the jobs of the future, modernize our economy and mitigate climate change – all while reducing energy costs for all ratepayers.”
Indeed, she claimed, the act “would create 650 new jobs by growing new solar markets, protect 300 existing jobs, increase installation tenfold and create between $58 million and $110 million in ratepayer savings. It creates a comprehensive solar policy for Maine, the only New England state without one. Maine is in last place in the region in solar development and job creation.”
Specifically, the bill would have required the Maine Public Utility Commission (PUC) to enter into 20-year contracts for the procurement of 248 megawatts (MW) of solar energy by 2022 – 60 MW of grid-scale solar distributed generation resources, 45 MW of large-scale community solar, 25 MW of to commercial and industrial generation, and 118 MW of residential and small business solar. Existing net metering customers would have been grandfathered for 12 years after the effective date of the measure.
The Governor argued, “The solar bill will not save jobs at paper mills or other large employers. But it will help your neighbor lower the cost to put solar panels on his roof at your expense. This will not save the planet, and it will have a negligible effect on reducing carbon emissions.”
Further, he said, “The bill will add tens of millions in energy costs for Maine businesses and households that cannot afford expensive solar panels. It ensures the costs of the program will be borne by ratepayers, and it includes a provision to allow above-market contracts to be added to stranded costs. Stranded cost is the difference between the contract price and the market price. We are already paying stranded costs for other forms of energy. The solar bill simply piles more costs on ratepayers. I would have no problem with the bill if the pricing was at market-rates and it prohibited more costs from adding to the burden of ratepayers. Sadly, the bill does not include ratepayer protections.”
As the impasse continued, Maine legislators gathered on April 29 to gain support for an override of the Governor’s veto. However, they were unsuccessful. The 96-52 vote on April 29 morning fell two votes short of the number needed to overrule the veto.