Much to LePage’s Ire, Maine PUC Maintains Net Metering

Much to the dissatisfaction of Maine Governor Paul LePage (R), the 2,000 current customer-operators of rooftop solar in the Pine Tree State  still will be able to earn utility credits by selling excess power back to the grid, following a decision (Case No. 2016-00120)by the Maine Public Utilities Commission on January 31.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved revisions to Chapter 313, the Customer Net Energy Billing (NEB) Rule, noting that all public comments had been “reviewed and analyzed carefully” over the last several months.

Net metering was approved in Maine over 30 years ago to help users recoup their initial investments in systems, but costs to do so have since dropped. Last year, Central Maine Power said these users made up just 1 percent of peak demand, triggering the Maine Public Utilities Commission review.

According to a February 1 report by the Bangor Daily News, the final rule package “rolls back” a policy allowing homeowners with solar panels to enjoy net metering credit, but will grandfather existing customers and those signing up before 2018 at current rates for 15 years. Those who enter the program after January 2018 will receive reduced credits.

Governor LePage lambasted the commission’s decision in a statement, the news outlet said, claiming that by maintaining and prolonging net metering, the PUC “… continues to shift the burden away from those who choose to install and have the resources to afford roof-top solar installations” and onto ratepayers and businesses.

However, Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, called the commission’s move “a roll-back of the one thing that is sustaining some amount of a solar market in the state,” according to BDN.

“The resulting rule a) grandfathers existing customers for 15 years, b) for new entrants it locks in the phase down level, at the year in which they enter, for 15 years, and c) maintains incentive margins consistent with the declining costs of solar technology,” stated Commission Chairman Mark Vannoy.

The commission focused its decision narrowly on residential rooftop solar. Below is a more detailed explanation of the major components of the decision, from the PUC website.

  1. Grandfathering of Existing NEB Customers. All existing customers and new customer installations that occur prior to January 1, 2018, will be grandfathered for fifteen years. This means those customers will receive the current incentives and terms as they exist today.
  2. Grandfathering of New Entrants to NEB. As new customers sign up over the next ten years, netting of the transmission and distribution (T&D) portion of their bills gradually will be decreased to reflect reductions in the costs of small renewable generation technology. For example, in year one, NEB customers will receive the full value of the supply portion, and 90 percent of the T&D portion for each year of the 15 years.
  3. Maintaining Incentive Levels. The incentives to NEB customers under the new rule should not change the length of time it takes for a customer to recoup his or her investment. The estimated payback for new installations will be similar to what it has been historically. As the cost of technology declines, the incentive for T&D also declines for new entrants. For a new customer installation in year two, for example, the cost of the solar panels will have declined but the incentive will also decline to 80 percent for T&D and the full incentive for supply.
  4. Rule Addresses Residential Rooftop Solar Only. Many projects are being built across the state today based on existing market mechanisms. The PUC decided not to address larger-scale projects and community projects as part of the NEB rules.
  5. Includes Renewable Energy Credit (REC)-Based Revenue Stream. The new Rule allows an NEB customer to choose to monetize the value of his or her solar generation and receive a credit for that value. NEB installations will be automatically classified as a Maine Class I Renewable Resource.

Advocates will now turn their attention to the Maine State Legislature, the Bangor Daily News reported, where Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), is proposing a bill that would roll back barriers to community solar projects — now capped in at 10 users statewide — and re-establish a solar rebate program.

Voorhees told BDN that, after the commission’s move, the legislature must act at a “critical moment” for the industry.

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