PUC delays change in solar net metering policy until April


The solar power net metering rule that would change how users are compensated will not go into effect until the end of April, the Maine Public Utilities Commission decided on Tuesday.

The rule — which was to have grandfathered existing solar power customers for 15 years under the current incentives but gradually reduced the credit for solar energy that could be used to offset the transmission and distribution portion of the electric bill — originally was to impact anyone who installed solar panels after Jan. 1, 2018.

Critics ranging from the Natural Resources Council to the Conservation Law Foundation, as well as the solar industry, said the gradual phase-out of the net metering rule, which was originally put in place to encourage solar power installation, would drastically slow the state’s solar industry.

A challenge of the rule, led by the Conservation Law Foundation, goes before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court Dec. 13.

The PUC had stated last March when it adopted the final order on its net metering policy that the lower compensation makes sense because of the decreasing cost of solar equipment.

Center Maine Power also has argued that the solar incentives raise electricity costs for other customers in the state because they end up shifting at least some of the solar user’s transmission and distribution costs to other ratepayers.

Insource Renewables, of Pittsfield, which had asked for the delay, said that differences in how CMP and Emera Maine of Bangor planned to implement the rule, particularly how meters would be installed, was inconsistent and in the case of CMP’s plan, more costly. Insource is a renewable energy consulting and contracting firm that works with both CMP and Emera Maine.

The Conservation Law Foundation called the PUC’s gradual phase-out of the net metering “senseless,” saying it “jeopardizes the growth of clean, local solar energy in Maine.”

After Tuesday’s delay, CLF Maine Director Sean Mahoney said, “Today the PUC pulled back to avoid an inevitable catastrophe. But delaying implementation doesn’t fix the fact that this rule hurts businesses and families, hampers our energy independence, and harms one of the fastest growing sectors of Maine’s economy. We need to eliminate this disastrous policy, not just procrastinate its implementation.”

The National Resources Council of Maine called the delay “a small victory.”

“What Maine people really want is the permanent termination of this harmful rule,” Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director at NRCM, said regarding the changes adopted by PUC last March. “The PUC net metering rule threatens solar industry jobs here in Maine, and undermines efforts by homeowners and businesses to pursue solar energy as a long-term, cost-saving strategy.”