Clean-energy advocates won a partial victory Wednesday when the Maine Public Utilities Commission agreed to exempt large electric customers from a recent regulatory policy that solar installers found punitive and uneconomic.

The advocates are hopeful the decision foreshadows changes to solar energy policy next year, when Gov.-elect Janet Mills assumes office and Democrats control the Legislature.

The rule, known as gross metering, required Maine electric customers to invest in additional meters to measure the total amount of energy generated by new solar panels. The idea was to reclaim some power generation revenue from panel owners to give to customers.

But Insource Renewables, a Pittsfield-based solar installer, successfully argued that gross metering was actually costing ratepayers money and offering little return on investment.

The PUC also agreed with Insource that Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine should now detail the various costs of gross metering. It stopped short, however, of exempting homes and small businesses.

“We are also encouraged by the commission’s recognition that the actual costs under this program are significantly higher than estimates provided to them by CMP in earlier proceedings,” Insource said in a statement.

COST-BENEFIT CALCULATION

Gross metering was enacted by the PUC and supported by the administration of Gov. Paul LePage, but Mills has indicated she will seek to repeal it for all solar installations.

Wednesday’s decision was welcomed by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which had supported Insource’s petition at the PUC. It noted estimates by Insource that the cost of additional metering equipment was roughly $2,000, but that typical revenue realized for ratepayers totaled $50 a year.

“This is the beginning of the end for a failed policy that has thwarted Maine’s renewable energy sector, penalized Maine people and businesses that want to invest in energy independence, and needlessly burdened all ratepayers,” said Dylan Voorhees, the resource council’s clean-energy director.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

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