An inspector walks among solar panels in Winslow in November 2021. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel, file

Multimillion-dollar solar projects intended to help Maine reach its targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions are stalled in lengthy studies, causing developers to worry they’ll miss a deadline to qualify for ratepayer subsidies.

Several solar developers have asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission to exempt them from a state law that set a Dec. 31, 2024, deadline to meet eligibility requirements in the state’s net energy billing program. The program, established in state law in 2019 and revised two years later, awards credits to generators for renewable power that is produced and sent to the electric grid.

Study delays are the most recent problem with a program that has drawn criticism over its cost to ratepayers, who subsidize the projects.

Last month, a nonprofit trade group of industrial ratepayers filed a complaint against the PUC with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court over rates that took effect last July 1. The Industrial Energy Consumers’ Group criticized what it calls a “new and historically expensive category of above-market electricity charges” set by the PUC.

Hundreds of millions of dollars collected annually from utility customers to finance Maine’s solar energy subsidies do not pay the costs of running the utility and providing electricity, as required by law, manufacturers said, but instead support “vaguely defined state climate ‘policy.’ ” The manufacturers group also claims the PUC’s allocation of costs runs afoul of the Federal Power Act, which preempts states’ ability to set rates affecting wholesale sales of electricity in interstate commerce.

The manufacturers have asked the court to order the PUC to restore rates in place before regulators set net energy billing rates last April and to create a new rate system that is “just and reasonable.”


A spokeswoman said the PUC would not comment. Regulators have until March 6 to file a response.

Maine Public Advocate William Harwood said the net energy billing program is projected to cost business and residential ratepayers $220 million a year beginning in 2025 – slightly more than $6 a month per household and much more for businesses – and he questioned how much money will be available for other zero-carbon energy sources.

David Littell, the lawyer for solar developers petitioning the PUC, disputes Harwood’s cost calculation. The public advocate’s estimate assumes all the projects in the queue will be developed, which will not occur, Littell said.

“Maine passed a law that very effectively invited solar companies to come here,” said Littell, who previously served on the PUC. “The market is here to develop them.”

Several businesses that did not agree to be identified are “not that thrilled with the state of Maine and the way they’re being treated,” he said.

The Public Advocate’s Office said it does not assume all projects in the queue will be developed. It cites a February 2022 response to state regulators from CMP that says 77% of solar projects will not be developed.


Still, project developers have spent millions of dollars and “invested thousands of hours of labor resources over the course of several years to bring these projects to fruition,” the Maine Renewable Energy Association and Coalition for Community Solar Access said in a filing with the PUC. The developers “heeded the Maine Legislature’s call to develop new distributed generation resources in furtherance of its ambitious climate goals and have complied with every eligibility criterion and development milestone imposed on them,” the groups said.

Solar developers have run into delays “despite their best efforts,” they said. Failing to grant the exemptions will have a “chilling effect on renewable energy” in Maine, the two groups said.


Residential customers of Central Maine Power pay $6.11 a month for the net energy billing program, and large industrial users with a peak demand of greater than 400 kilowatts pay as much as $18,500 a month, according to the utility.

Before 2019, eligibility was restricted to very small generators, reflecting opposition from then-Gov. Paul LePage and many Republican lawmakers. Following the election of Gov. Janet Mills in 2018 and a Legislature dominated by Democrats, the program expanded, directing utilities to buy power from solar projects with up to 5 megawatts of capacity at fixed rates.

Community solar projects cropped up, and the concern now is that net energy billing will grow too much too quickly, spurred by ratepayer subsidies.


Harwood said the PUC should consider the goal set by the Legislature of a cap of 750 MW on all net energy billing projects. Maine is nearing that cap already “and will likely far exceed it if the extensions are granted,” he said.

Versant Power said demand to connect solar projects to the grid has “skyrocketed.” Since 2020, the utility said it has worked with developers to connect more than 130 MW of solar energy and processed more than 1,652 applications to connect renewable energy generators to the distribution grid. Versant is working with owners of more than 450 projects to integrate more than 404 MW more of renewable energy in northern and eastern Maine.

“That’s more than we have for total demand for energy on the grid,” spokeswoman Judy Long said.

Central Maine Power said in a filing with the PUC that it’s required by ISO-New England, the region’s grid operator, to study grid connection plans before giving solar projects the green light. CMP says it must assess how best to efficiently make it possible to connect high volumes of solar power while preserving the reliability of the electric system.

It “strongly refutes any suggestion or accusation that it has delayed the cluster study process.”

The studies closely examine the proposed solar projects, and they have become increasingly complicated and assess future situations in which large generators are displaced by numerous small and intermittent solar power systems, the utility said.


ISO-New England said CMP is the primary party on the cluster study, which it presents to ISO to determine if connecting the solar project will result in adverse impacts to the system.


Competitive Energy Services, a Portland consulting firm, said in a recent blog post that nearly all of the solar projects under development in Maine’s net energy billing program have had to navigate “cluster studies” where projects are grouped based on geography and analyzed in bulk to determine potential impacts on grid infrastructure.

“These studies take time and, in some cases, the high grid upgrade costs identified through the study process result in the need to renegotiate contracts or terminate projects,” CES said.

Even renewable projects that are already online have faced rising costs related to grid congestion and efforts to curtail power generation because it’s more than the grid can handle, CES said. Without improvements to connecting projects to the grid and rapid expansion of infrastructure, “renewable development will be hindered,” it said.

Kelly Friend, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs at Nexamp, a Boston-based developer of solar power and storage with several projects pending in Maine, said renewable energy development is “not so nimble, especially when you layer on top of these cluster sessions that can take a year or longer and result in construction that takes years.”

“We’re seeing a lot of the investment lost because of these deadlines,” she said in an interview.

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