Recent changes to Maine’s solar energy laws have set us on the right track toward a carbon-free energy future. The net energy billing program has grown to include community solar projects, extending access to renewable energy and attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment to Maine. But now, the same legislative committee whose work spurred this unrivaled expansion of renewable energy is considering changing the law, potentially slamming the brakes on the widespread economic and environmental benefits that solar energy provides.  As Mainers with a strong stake in the expansion of community solar, we joined a group of nearly 100 businesses, landowners and municipal officials who are urging the Maine Legislature to protect this critical program.

Thirty thousand solar-electric panels are being installed at the BNRG/Dirigo solar farm off Route 26 in Oxford, part of an unprecedented wave of large-scale solar projects being developed in Maine. Photo courtesy of BNRG/Dirigo

The beneficiaries of community solar are a diverse array of construction workers, municipalities, manufacturers, small businesses and residential consumers who participate in net energy billing. We have made significant investments in time and resources to participate in the program, and recent activity in the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee has raised the alarm that the community solar projects we’re part of might be at risk if the committee makes retroactive changes.

Some of us are participating in this program to reduce our energy costs. Some are helping to build these projects, and supporting our families through these good Maine jobs. Others are depending on the program to reduce property taxes in our towns. And all of us are eager to make the shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable solar power, for the good of Maine and our environment.

The expansion of net energy billing in 2019 opened the door for an unprecedented level of investment in Maine. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new money is poised to come into our state, which is helping our economy at a time when we need it the most. The program is creating jobs, sustaining businesses and moving Maine closer to our long-term carbon-reduction goals.

Community solar projects now allow all Mainers – from homeowners to large and small businesses, and including education institutions and municipalities — to benefit by making the jump from fossil fuels to clean, cost-effective Maine-made power. Net energy billing has ended the cost prohibition to lower-income Mainers because anyone can now access renewable solar power without having to finance their own arrays.

If this program ends, it means an entire strata of middle- to low-income Mainers will once again be forced to consume carbon-emitting fossil fuels. It would mean the loss of hundreds of jobs, and a spike in energy costs to consumers, municipalities and businesses who have already made the shift to community solar power.

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee’s deliberations over the last several weeks have made it clear there is a stark lack of data to justify significant changes to the net energy billing program. Members have voiced concern about the cost to Maine energy consumers, but do not yet have a clear idea of what that cost might be. It should go without saying that any changes to this critical program must be based on facts, not fears. Without an actual study of the consumer impacts of net energy billing in its current form, changes to the program would be ill-informed and premature.

The Maine Legislature, and the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee in particular, led the way in 2019 by including community solar projects in the net energy billing program. And the bill has been a resounding success. We urge legislators to maintain careful stewardship of the program by basing decisions on a sound body of factual data. It’s worth taking the time to make sure we make the right choices, and that the incredible successes of this program are not sacrificed to unsubstantiated fears. The country is now poised to take bold steps forward to clean our energy resources and build the clean-energy economy. Don’t let Maine slide backward after having taken its own bold step toward a clean-energy future with the implementation of net energy billing.

We appreciate the difficult work Maine’s Legislature is doing to find the right balance for our energy needs. The work the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee does can have a substantial impact on Maine’s entire economy, as we’ve seen through the incredible success of net energy billing. But that pendulum can swing back hard if mistakes are made. Maine’s renewable-energy future, along with hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, stand at risk through these legislative deliberations. We urge the Legislature to work carefully, in an informed manner, to protect this critical program and the wide array of benefits it has already provided to our state.

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