Any Solar Expansion Policy Must Protect Ratepayers

An editorial by Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, ranking House Republican on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee

Maine’s shrinking paper industry makes it clear that it’s time to help new industries grow. I was happy to read that the editorial board at the Kennebec Journal thinks the same and agrees that one of the most promising and rising industries in our state is solar energy. Solar has a proven track record of net benefits in other states where the industry has been allowed to grow: energy choice for consumers who previously could only buy energy from their monopoly utility, a more resilient power system, cleaner air, and of course, jobs.

Solar jobs have grown exponentially across the country and the KJ is right to note that Maine should have a piece of that pie. The Solar Foundation’s 2015 census on national solar jobs found that last year the industry added workers at a rate more than ten times faster than the overall economy. These jobs are by definition local and cannot be exported out of state or out of the country. They account for diverse skillsets and pay competitive wages.

What the KJ gets wrong however, is how we can create more of these jobs here. Maine should be thoughtful and creative when considering the best policies to boost solar growth. The proposed “net metering” policy being debated in the Legislature was perhaps created with good intentions, but it disregards past policy, which has been proven to work both in Maine and in other states across the country with more robust solar industries. The proposed new policy hasn’t been tested anywhere in the country, and needs to go through a full business cycle before we truly knows its impact. Current statute says customers may participate in net metering, I believe, and have proposed, that customers have the right to participate in net metering. The PUC is looking for guidance from the Legislature and making net metering a right, guarantees that our constituents have a choice.

But we know net metering works. Net metering, the status quo solar policy in Maine, should be allowed to continue. The state should not remove a policy that has been proven to foster tremendous growth in solar in dozens of markets while also providing net benefits to all ratepayers, and on which people have counted in making the choice to go solar. Moreover we should expand, not limit, opportunities for municipalities and other communities to share in the benefits of appropriately scaled solar projects.

A few weeks ago, LD 1649 “An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development” was introduced. There were several fatal flaws with this bill in its original form. As a legislator serving on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, I feel it’s my responsibility to look out for the Maine ratepayers. At the public hearing on` LD 1649 a few weeks ago, a PUC Commissioner testified that the potential cost of the bill in its original form would be roughly $21.7 million in the first 5 years of a 20 year contract. At a time when we see business after business telling us that energy costs are driving them right out of Maine I cannot support a bill that would drive those unsustainable costs even higher. The impacts of these higher costs are felt by everyone including our mills.

That is why I offered an amendment to LD 1649 that will ensure that municipalities and communities have the choice to connect with right-sized solar projects. The Legislature has an important opportunity to help the state’s economy here, and we cannot fail to act and we need to take action together. I hope my fellow lawmakers agree and want to work with me to find a solution that works for everyone.

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth represents House District 70 which includes the towns of Brownfield, Fryeburg, Hiram, part of Lovell and Porter

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