Although the climate and economic benefits of migrating to renewable energy sources have been touted by nearly every science publication released in the past 10 years, some barriers have impeded residential, commercial and municipal investments in Maine. With the passage of some key laws by our Legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2019, several of those key barriers have been lifted — and now may be the best time to jump into the solar.

In April 2019, the passage of L.D. 91 ended prominent arbitrary penalties to residential solar customers for producing renewable electricity. For years prior to 2017, all sales to the grid from eligible solar facilities earned credits that could be used to lower the generator’s utility bill via net energy billing. This program used a credit (denominated in kilowatt hours) that created parity between energy bought from and sold to the grid; for every kilowatt hour sold to the grid a kilowatt hour credit was received on the customer’s bill .

Subsequently, however, the Maine Public Utilities Commission under the previous administration adopted new “gross metering” rules, which had two distinct negative effects on investments in new renewable generation. First, they discounted the earned credit to less than a kilowatt-hour, and they required a costly, and otherwise unnecessary, second meter to measure the gross energy generated, not just used.

The new law did away with the disincentives enacted in 2017 and restored parity to all participants in the net energy billing program by granting a full kilowatt hour credit for each kilowatt hour sold to the grid and eliminated the second meter requirement.

In June, L.D. 1711 was passed with strong bipartisan support by the Legislature. Sponsored by Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, the bill set into motion the means and mechanisms to improve access to solar generation for commercial, nonprofit, municipal and community projects.  Limits to electricity production were effectively removed. Eliminating the cap was important because it allowed larger projects to be built for the Maine nonresidential market. No longer will there be a limit on the number of meters a solar project can have. The law creates a net metering program advantageous for municipal, commercial and institutional customers, allowing for investment into solar energy systems with assured payback in both short and long term.

Finally, while receiving less public attention than some of the other policy changes, L.D. 1430 was also signed into law in June. This law, An Act To Create Tax Equity among Renewable Energy Investments, clarifies the eligibility of business investments in renewable energy facilities for business equipment tax exemptions and provides personal property tax and real estate tax exemptions for renewable energy facilities installed for noncommercial use. In the absence of clear guidance, some municipalities had applied arbitrary property tax assessments at levels that were punitive for customers.

Admittedly, Maine has a long way to go in increasing our overall solar energy capacity.  According to John Luft, branch manager at ReVision Energy, “Maine is currently close to last in New England in solar electricity production.” However, residents and municipalities are coming on board at an increasingly fast rate in Maine. It is, as one solar engineer explained, a “Solar Tsunami” ongoing in Maine since the passage of these solar bills.

Time is of the essence.  When one factors in that the Federal Investment Tax Credits available to customers for the installation of new renewable energy systems will decrease from 26% in 2020 to 22% in 2021 to 0% after 2021 the rush to take advantage of going solar is understandable.  It will stay at 10% for Commercial projects, 0% for residential after 2021.

In closing, consider that in just one year Maine residential, business and governmental consumers purchase roughly $5 billion in fossil fuel energy. And then consider the potential savings and benefit of moving to solar or any other renewable energy source.

The time to consider putting that solar system on your rooftop or in your field is now. With the promise of electric vehicles from every major car company, and a push at the state level to install more efficiency air source heat pumps, all signs point towards the electrification of Maine’s economy. Why not have that electricity be generated in state and from a renewable source?

Steve Ball is a retired U.S. Army colonel. Tom Tietenberg is Mitchell Family Professor of Economics, Emeritus at Colby College. Both are board members of the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition.


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