Maine lags behind two-thirds of the states when it comes to installed solar power per capita, and it’s not for the reason you probably think.
It’s not because we are so far north or have short days in the winter.
Wisconsin, Minnesota and all the other states in New England have more solar power than we do, and they won’t be confused with the Sun Belt. Germany, the world leader in solar energy, gets much less sunlight than Maine. It is on the same latitude as Labrador, while Maine is in line with Spain and the French Riviera. We don’t have the currents they do to warm the water and air, but that doesn’t affect the sun, which shines the same on us all.
The main reason we don’t have more solar power in Maine is that we haven’t pursued it. If we don’t pursue it now, we risk missing out on a powerful engine of economic growth. The Legislature has a chance to take a small step in that direction, and it should do so.
Up for a vote as soon as this week is a solar rebate program that could give Maine resident homeowners and small businesses the incentive they need to invest in something that will bring them long-term savings. The bill, L.D. 1252, would establish for the next 2½ years a rebate for the purchase of some solar energy equipment. The money would come from a surcharge on electric customers, adding about 60 cents annually to the bill of the average homeowner.
If the rebate program could stimulate growth in solar power, the payback would be significant. Money that would have gone to pay out-of-state gas companies for electricity drawn from the grid would instead go to Maine electricians and contractors who would hire help and spend money in their communities. Every dollar returned as a rebate would be leveraged with $10 spent by the consumer, with most of it staying right here in Maine.
Once the panels are installed, there is no cost for fuel, making cash available to the owners of homes and businesses that installed them. When these systems are connected to the grid, they put electricity into the system, often generating more power than the owner needs, especially during the summer, which is the time of peak demand for electricity.
Maine had a solar rebate program that expired in 2010, but a lot has changed since then that would make this a good time to revive it. The price of photovoltaic panels has dropped by 75 percent over the last five years, putting solar conversion much closer to the budget of many Maine households. A well-timed incentive could be enough to make the math work for more people.
Maine is the only state in New England that has no policy encouraging solar power. It’s the reason we are dead last in the region on the per capita use of this technology.
Lawmakers should approve this moderate, common-sense energy investment and pass L.D. 1252.