A bill approved by the Maine Legislature aims to control the number of medium-sized solar projects and avoid a further flood of electricity into the grid, but it also could raise electricity distribution rates by up to 30 percent.
The measure, which was passed last week and is now on Governor Janet Mills’ desk, would amend state laws around buying power and “net energy billing” incentives, which give small- and medium-sized solar generators credits for the excess power they supply to the grid.
It would require solar projects with 2 megawatt to 5 megawatt power output to meet criteria by certain dates before they are approved, including a signed interconnection agreement with an electric utility such as Central Maine Power or Versant Power.
Supporters say passing the measure will help control the number of new projects, which skyrocketed after Mills and the Legislature enacted incentives in 2019 to boost the state’s renewable energy in line with the state’s climate goals. Some bill opponents disagree that it will curtail projects significantly and argue the market will be flooded with expensive solar power and drive up distribution rates for electricity customers.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission has estimated that projects producing a total of 1,500 megawatts of capacity would cost ratepayers about $230 million per year, with an estimated delivery rate increase of 31 percent. The rate effect would be lower if fewer projects were approved.
Supporters, including the solar industry, argue that the utilities commission numbers tell only part of the story, and need to be balanced with other aspects like jobs created by solar projects and the benefits of clean energy.
Solar policy has been heavily debated in the Legislature in 2021, but it has attracted less public attention than other landmark utility issues, including another Berry proposal that would send Maine voters a proposal to buy out CMP’s and Versant’s infrastructure and put it under the control of an elected board. CMP’s $1 billion corridor also faces a November referendum from opponents of the project.
While Mills opposes that measure, it is unclear what she will do with the solar legislation supported by most Democrats.