Solar legislation was introduced, amended, approved, and successfully vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage during this year’s legislative session.

That leaves many questions for those who have invested in solar and for those considering a solar investment in 2016. Existing owners are asking, “Will the PUC change my relationship with Central Maine Power?” Potential buyers are weighing the risks of buying today under current rules that allow net metering and the unknown world of tomorrow, when this mechanism may not be an option. If it is not, many of these same buyers are trying to determine whether there is a benefit to buying a system today with the hope that it will be grandfathered tomorrow.

It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

There are few markets in which uncertainty is a good thing, and the solar market is no exception. Solar buyers are already taking a perceived risk by making an upfront investment to generate their own electricity instead of simply paying CMP monthly. If electricity rates increase, this risk reaps some significant dividends. If electricity rates stay rather stagnant, the system still provides benefit — just not as much.

This year’s developments insert more uncertainty, however. As customers navigate this uncertainty, often the most informed party in the discussion is the solar salesperson.

While there is benefit to having a well-informed salesperson, there are few Mainers who are big fans of putting that much trust in someone who has a financial stake in the transaction. This has created a challenging dynamic in Maine’s solar industry.

Sustain Mid Maine Coalition is working on a solution to this challenge. As part of its Solarize Mid Maine program, which reduces the installed cost of solar for area homes and businesses, Sustain Mid Maine is hosting “The Future of Solar Energy in Maine” forum on Thursday, June 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Diamond Building on the campus of Colby College. The event is the second in a series of statewide forums that bring together leaders in Maine to discuss the current status of Maine’s solar market. For more information, write [email protected]

Scheduled panelists include Tim Schneider from the Office of the Public Advocate, Vaughan Woodruff from the Committee on Renewable Energy, and Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. It will be kicked off by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and will be moderated by Steve Kahl. The forum will provide for a dialogue between the panelists and the audience.

As we await this important discussion, there are some things that we do know about the existing market:

• Full retail net metering remains the status quo. Net metering allows solar customers to receive a credit for each kilowatt-hour that is exported to the grid. Current net metering policy in Maine requires utilities provide a credit at the full retail rate, which includes the electricity supply charge and the transmission and distribution charge.

• The PUC will begin its review of net metering in the coming months. When net metering was established in Maine, language was included to trigger a review once the capacity of net metered systems exceeded 1 percent of the peak load in an electrical utility’s service territory. In January, CMP submitted a request to the PUC that it review net metering based on this rule.

• The PUC process is expected to extend into late 2016. While no timeline has been set, it is expected that it will be late fall to early winter before a conclusion is reached. This process will likely have comment periods and at least one public hearing.

• Grandfathering of existing net energy billing customers is expected. When the PUC rules on net metering, there is a strong expectation from most of the parties involved in the proceeding that customers with net metering arrangements will be able to continue those agreements. This is by no means a certainty, but there have not been any proposals to date that would revoke existing net metering agreements.

• Net metering could be modified by the PUC. There are three likely outcomes of the PUC review: continue net metering, eliminate it, or modify it. Of these three outcomes, the decision to modify net metering appears quite plausible, though not certain.

• Solar legislation will be introduced again. Regardless of the outcome of the PUC process, it is expected that the diverse parties that rallied in support of the recent solar bill will continue to pursue legislative avenues to provide some certainty in Maine’s solar market.

John Reuthe is the team leader for Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Energy Team.

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