Gov. Paul LePage took an opportunity to deride solar energy while he recently promoted public investment in infrastructure to expand Maine’s natural gas capacity and to connect our electrical distribution system to hydropower generated in Quebec.

MPBN reported that the governor advised that the state “[get] away from solar because it doesn’t shine much during a snowstorm, it doesn’t shine when it’s raining and 12 hours a day it’s dark.”

The meeting where LePage spoke about energy policy took place roughly 10 miles from my business’s headquarters in Pittsfield. LePage repeated a theme that I have seen during the past five years — the continued public criticism of the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries in the state of Maine. For a governor who claims to be business friendly, LePage continually takes pot shots at our industry based on his own personal biases.

LePage’s observation that night and snow exist and have an impact on the effectiveness of solar energy is pretty obvious and rather simplistic. It’s as if he criticized furnaces because we don’t need them for half of the year or claimed that heat pumps don’t work because they can’t heat a leaky farmhouse by themselves for an entire Maine winter.

The importance of each of these technologies is the value they provide when they operate efficiently. A furnace may not be necessary in the summer, but it sure is nice to have in February. A heat pump may not keep an entire house comfortable in the depth of winter, but it can do an incredible job of saving energy at the times it is operating.

Sure, solar panels aren’t effective when it is dark outside or when they are covered with two feet of snow, but they are highly valuable when the sun is out and businesses across the region run air conditioning to counteract the sun’s heat.

The value of solar energy in Maine has been quantified through an independent study conducted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The report concluded that during the next 25 years the value of the energy a solar energy system delivers to Maine’s electrical grid is worth more than twice the current rate received by residential solar owners and more than five times the rate received by some businesses owners. Since these customers are receiving less value than they provide to the grid, every solar panel installed in Maine turns out to be a benefit to all electrical ratepayers.

Maine is not the only state that has reached this conclusion. Studies around the country have determined that solar provides more value to the grid than it takes, essentially concluding that solar customers receive less than they would in an energy market that better reflects a free market.

Companies also have recognized the value of solar. Target, Kohl’s, Toys R Us, Macy’s, Staples and Wal-Mart have collectively invested billions of dollars in solar for their facilities across the country. None of these companies have injected solar capital into Maine, however, primarily because of our state’s lack of effective solar policy.

Even the Department of Defense has prioritized investment in solar because of its ability to reduce risk for the armed services.

Amidst all of this evidence, LePage continues to rail against solar in his effort to convince the Maine public to spend its dollars to build infrastructure to connect us to energy sources over which we have no control — natural gas from the mid-Atlantic and hydroelectricity from Quebec. LePage openly criticizes solar, which receives no state subsidies in Maine. Meanwhile, he wants ratepayers to absorb the cost of building more power lines and pipelines to deliver fuel from away.

As a result of LePage’s continual vetoes of solar policy efforts, Maine is the only state in the region that hasn’t implemented mechanisms to bridge the gap between the value solar energy provides to its residents and the compensation that it currently receives. As a result, we are in a precarious situation for sustaining solar job growth in our state and are at a competitive disadvantage with our neighbors.

The governor often claims to be concerned about the cost of companies doing business in Maine, yet he fails to recognize that all of the other states in the region are actively working to help businesses control their long-term energy costs by installing solar on their facilities. Instead of supporting the tangible gains of a local solar industry that is adding much needed careers to our local economies and providing value to the people of Maine, LePage elects time and again to criticize the solar industry while advocating for the interests of large multinational utilities that serve their shareholders.

I hope the people of Maine will take some time to consider which companies LePage is referring to when he touts his own record of being “business friendly.”

Vaughan Woodruff, of Pittsfield, is a sixth-generation central Mainer and is the owner of Insource Renewables, a solar contracting firm.


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