A Model for the Future: Maine Looks at Alternate Ways to Boost Solar Power Adoption

Sean Mahoney | @SeanCLF

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels.

Investments in renewable energy sources such as solar will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels.

The world’s focus today is on how we can de-carbonize our power supply in ways that are good for people, our planet, and our global economy. There’s no question that solar power will play a key role in our transition to a clean-energy-fueled power grid here in the U.S. – but how to best adapt that grid to absorb dramatic growth in the number of solar-powered homes and businesses remains an open question.

Solar Adoption Growing Across New England
Here in New England, the costs for installing solar panels on rooftops and in sun-drenched fields have plummeted as interest in, and incentives for, their installation have soared. CLF helped to push the net metering policies in New England that have played such a big role in the growth of solar energy generation and with good reason – net metering allows home- and business owners to get credit from their local power company for any extra power their solar panels produce.

But as solar use grows, the business model that currently supports net metering could start to break down. If more people are generating their own electricity from the sun – and, in turn, buying less electricity from the grid – then the cost to upkeep and maintain power lines and transmission stations will fall on a smaller number of people who still rely on the grid for 100 percent of their electricity needs. In the long run, that might not be the fairest or most sustainable way of allocating those costs.

Studying the Alternatives
In New England, this potential issue has started to raise concern among a number of state legislatures. Right now, many states are dealing with the issue partly by limiting how much net-metered power is allowed on the grid. But that’s hardly the ideal solution, as it means that, sooner rather than later, those net metering caps will be met – capping the growth potential of the solar market, too. (Vermont, in fact, has already met its net metering cap for this year, and is already on track to meet it next year, too).

Legislators in Maine have decided to get ahead of this potential deterrent to more solar power in the state. In its last session, the legislature passed a resolve directing the state Public Utilities Commission to develop an alternative to net metering, one that would build a long-term business model to promote more solar installations for homes and businesses, while more fairly allocating both the costs and benefits.

The Commission began its efforts in late August by inviting a wide range of stakeholders, including CLF, to participate in a series of meetings to design this alternate model. In January, the Commission will present a report to the legislature with their recommended alternate model based on the input and comments from the stakeholder meetings.

Now is the Time to Scale Up, Not Back
Especially as we anticipate news from Paris about an international climate agreement, we know that limiting solar power in Maine or any other New England state is not an acceptable option. As CLF works with solar companies, the Office of the Public Advocate (who works on behalf of all electricity customers), and other clean energy advocates, we believe we will be able to craft a proposal that the Public Utilities Commission and, ultimately, the legislature will support and that will lead to the continued growth of solar generation in Maine. In the short term, we’ll continue to work to grow the solar market by increasing net metering caps across New England, while ensuring a fair and sustainable transition to a clean-energy economy in the years to come.

Follow CLF President Brad Campbell’s on-the-ground updates from the Paris Climate Summit on Twitter and the Huffington Post.

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