Editorial, June 27, 2019

Jun 27, 2019

Solar success

Passage of the most recent version of a solar energy bill, LD 1711, is good news for Maine.

The legislation was sponsored by Lincoln County Sen. Dana Dow, a Republican, and approved by a majority in the House and Senate. Locally, Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Waldo County, and Reps. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport; Jan Dodge, D-Belfast; Vicki Doudera, D-Camden; and S. Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, voted in favor of the measure. Republican Reps. MaryAnne Kinney of Knox and Sherman Hutchins of Penobscot voted against the final bill.

Of note, the final version of the bill was amended, and all the Waldo County representatives switched their votes — prior to the amendment, Kinney and Hutchins were in favor, while local Democratic representatives were opposed.

“Maine is embracing renewable energy and solar power, which can benefit our economy and create jobs in our state,” Dow previously said. “Distributed generation puts the power where it needs to be, right where it is consumed; and that can reduce costly burdens on our electricity grid. With this proposal it is my hope to bring the benefits of solar to more Mainers, from businesses to families with more limited incomes.”

According to Sundog Solar co-owners Chuck and Danny Piper, the bill will remove existing hurdles for solar energy growth and offer more options for homeowners and business owners.

“Many Maine seniors, renters and low- to moderate-income people have been missing out on the benefits of solar energy,” Chuck Piper said in a press release. “Community solar farms create equal access for people that could not otherwise use solar electricity. LD 1711 will make solar farms available to all consumers by lifting the arbitrary nine-participant cap to 200.”

Community solar farms eliminate the upfront costs and lower individual costs by sharing them among many, according to the press release from Sundog Solar, which is based in Searsport. The bill also will have implications for medium-sized companies as well, Chuck Piper said.

“For Maine businesses to thrive, they need a competitive energy marketplace to keep electricity rates down,” Danny Piper added. “Because of how most medium-sized commercial ratepayers are billed for electricity transmission and distribution, solar energy is not as cost-effective under Maine’s current net energy billing rules. The new solar bill will give more businesses access to affordable solar energy.”

LD 1711 includes a component that will help remove barriers by changing the way these medium-sized commercial consumers are reimbursed for solar electricity with a new alternative to net energy billing. These customers would be compensated through long-term fixed contracts with their utility provider at roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the blended retail rate. This would significantly boost the return on investment of a solar system by helping to offset expensive demand charges for electricity.

The installation of 400 megawatts of solar energy will have a big economic impact on the state. “Maine is the lowest state in New England for installed solar energy capacity and jobs,” Chuck Piper said. “Mainers have been missing out on the economic benefits of solar power so LD 1711 will be a real game changer. High-quality jobs are created by keeping our energy dollars close to home.”

The bill also is being lauded by National Resources Council of Maine as a step forward.

“Mainers overwhelmingly support the transition to clean energy because they know it will help reduce energy costs, create new jobs, and reduce our reliance on costly fossil fuels,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in a press release. “This moment has been a long time coming. Maine has fallen behind on solar as the improvements in technology outpaced our outdated policies. We have failed to reap the benefits of solar that many other states have been receiving, but it looks like that is about to change.”

Related bills have previously been supported by the Legislature over the past few years but did not become law because of objections from former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

John Egan, chief investment officer with Coastal Enterprises Inc., said establishing solar generation sites in the state "means we are exporting fewer dollars out of our economy.

“(And) increased renewable and distributed capacity here means we are more resilient to damage caused by climate change.”

Karen D’Andrea, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine Chapter, said, “With Maine’s high asthma rates and growing Lyme disease rates, this bill presents an opportunity for Maine to increase the use of clean energy and reduce greenhouse gases to help prevent illness and injury from the impacts of climate change.”

Towns and cities across Maine, including many in Waldo County, have already installed solar arrays to reduce the burden of energy costs on taxpayers. As prices for solar installations have dropped 47% in the last five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, those towns have experienced thousands of dollars in energy cost savings.

Now, under the new rules, homeowners for which solar installations were not feasible can join community solar projects and could see similar financial and environmental benefits.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Eric Schrader | Jun 28, 2019 14:07

Karen, I don't understand this: “With Maine’s high asthma rates and growing Lyme disease rates, this bill presents an opportunity for Maine to increase the use of clean energy and reduce greenhouse gases to help prevent illness and injury from the impacts of climate change.” The atmosphere is made up of 97.5% nitrogen and oxygen, with .038% of carbon dioxide, which is plant food and the rest trace elements. Maine has some of the cleanest air quality in the US, so I don't know how you can connect the dots between asthma, Lyme disease and carbon dioxide. Even if mankind was 100% responsible for "climate change", the effect on these two examples would be infinitesimal.

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