The costs, benefits, and how to measure Maine’s solar energy was the subject of the majority of testimony Tuesday during a public hearing in front of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.
There has been conflicting data and viewpoints on the financial incentives enacted in 2019 to support the state’s clean-energy and climate goals.
There was wide agreement among committee members that solar policies enacted two years ago have led to a wave of proposed projects, hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, and an increase in jobs. But it also became clear that not all solar projects are beneficial to customers in the same manner. For example, some projects based on the size or location are better deals for electricity customers than others.
The five-hour online public hearing Tuesday set the stage for upcoming work sessions that will seek to answer this question: How can Maine pick the right mix of solar projects to provide the greatest benefits for customers and businesses at the least cost? Informing the answer will be two studies that have attempted to weigh the benefits of the financial incentive program that helps support investment. Net energy billing, or net metering, provides a credit for the power generated by small-scale renewable energy units, including rooftop solar panels.
One study, done last fall by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, identified a significant cost to ratepayers if the current policy remains unchanged and the hundreds of proposed solar projects become operational.
The second, done by Daymark Energy Advisors for community solar proponents and released Tuesday, found a range of benefits, including jobs and investment already occurring and predicted greater value with an expanding industry.
At upcoming work sessions, both the PUC and Daymark will walk the committee through the assumptions underpinning their differing conclusions.
There was wide agreement Tuesday that Maine should strive to make adjustments without pulling the rug out from under an evolving industry that’s making sizable investments based on existing rules. It appears likely that members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee may choose to use a resolve offered by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, as a vehicle to consider the future of net energy billing. It would pause the program temporarily while a stakeholder group convened to make recommendations. The bill would set a moratorium ending June 30 for projects between 2 and 5 megawatts in capacity that weren’t already placed in the utility interconnection queue by Jan. 1 of this year.