A much-anticipated decision by Maine’s utility regulators on the status of incentives for solar homeowners has been delayed into the new year.

The state Public Utilities Commission had intended to make a decision regarding incentives that help homeowners recoup the installation costs of solar-panel roofs by the end of the year.

The commission held a public hearing on the matter in October and received hundreds of written comments in its wake.

“This is an important rule and more time is needed to consider the Proposed Rule in light of the comments we received to ensure that the rule treats all ratepayers in a fair manner,” PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy said in a news release. “It remains clear that changes in technology and costs of small renewable generation, particularly solar (photovoltaic), require a careful review of the current rule and potential modifications. The comments and participation of stakeholders to date have been helpful. The rulemaking process is iterative and therefore takes time.”

Until a final rule is issued, the existing rules remain in place.

At issue is a practice called net metering, in which utilities credit the bills of solar homeowners and other small energy generators for the full retail price of all the electricity they send into the grid. Those credits chiefly help homeowners recover the investment in solar-electric panels, which can average $10,000 or so. They continue to be paid as long as the power is being generated.

In September, PUC commissioners proposed that owners of existing solar roof systems be allowed to continue receiving credits for 15 years, and that benefits for new solar owners be limited to 10 years.

Members of Maine’s solar power industry have strenuously objected to the proposal, saying the curtailment of incentives would cut the legs out of the industry and result in a loss of jobs. It also would slow the state’s progress on providing more renewable, clean energy.

Gov. Paul LePage has criticized net metering, saying it unfairly subsidizes solar homeowners at the expense of other electric ratepayers.

It’s possible that new legislation affecting solar policy will come from the current session of the Legislature. Last year, a compromise bill was struck by lawmakers, solar advocates, utility interests and others that would have reformed net metering and other aspects of solar policy, but it was vetoed by LePage.


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