Solar energy offers Maine towns an opportunity to lower energy costs and return those savings to local taxpayers. Many towns are excited to seek out solar projects, but unfortunately they are finding that arbitrary and outdated barriers make it hard to move forward.

It is time to pass L.D. 1711, “An Act to Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources,” sponsored by state Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro. Passage of the bill will remove the arbitrary barriers holding Maine back and let towns, residents and businesses capture the benefits of solar.

This commentary is consistent with authorized testimony one of its authors offered in support of L.D. 1711 on May 14 and reflects official public discussions by the Town Council of the other. Consequently, both Gray and Waldoboro strongly support L.D. 1711 and urge lawmakers to enact it without delay.

L.D. 1711 is critical because it lays the groundwork for a substantial increase in distributive clean, affordable solar energy across the state. How does the bill accomplish this? It lifts the arbitrary nine-person limit on community solar projects; it creates a competitive process to attract cost-effective development of small-, medium- and large-scale solar installations; it increases options for commercial and municipal investments in solar, and it requires community solar projects to enable low- and moderate-income households to participate without having to share in the prohibitively expensive up-front capital costs of purchasing and installing private solar arrays.

The foregoing elements of L.D. 1711 will reduce dependence on costly and polluting fossil fuels and provide access to predictable renewable energy. They will allow towns to use municipal properties, such as capped landfills and roofs of larger buildings, to generate low-cost electricity.

Given these benefits, it’s no surprise that the Maine Municipal Association supports L.D. 1711.

For small rural towns such as Gray, having to navigate the restricted waters of solar energy deters both progress and participation. Gray is working to form a coalition with our school district and other partners to create productive uses for our capped land fill and available public facilities. We quickly found there was broad interest in expanding the effort to maximize the savings across multiple entities; however, existing restrictions prevent us from doing so given predetermined limits on accounts and generation. Passage of L.D. 1711 will help us maximize our efforts and expand inclusion, creating a truly community approach to lowering energy costs, stabilizing one area of municipal and school budgets and lowering the state’s carbon footprint, an action that is essential to our tourism industry.

In Waldoboro, passage of L.D. 1711 will allow private investors seriously to pursue the use of an abandoned and polluted industrial site for a solar project that existing caps have thus far prevented. The solar installation could serve the school district, residents of a neighboring trailer park and businesses. We are particularly grateful that our senator, Dana Dow, is listening to his constituents by sponsoring L.D. 1711 and helping lead in the State House on solar energy policy.

Existing electricity systems aren’t working efficiently for Maine people. They require heavy investments in miles of distribution lines that more concentrated short-haul regional distributive solar networks render obsolete. Now is the time for Maine to encourage a competitive marketplace for renewable solar energy that will help towns and their residents reduce electricity costs.

The transition to clean, renewable, regionally distributed power is already underway nationally and globally. Despite convoluted and outdated energy policies, 25 Maine municipalities have completed solar projects and the number could explode exponentially with the removal of existing obstacles. By acting now to pass L.D. 1711 into law, we can create jobs, stabilize and lower energy costs and keep more of our dollars in local economies. L.D. 1711 is a necessary step in the right direction. We urge legislators to act swiftly to pass L.D. 1711, now.

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