AUGUSTA — Maine’s largest environmental organization pledged Wednesday to “pursue every opportunity” to reverse controversial solar energy rules adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission.
In late-January, the PUC approved new rules changing “net metering” policies that provide homeowners with credits on their electricity bills for excess solar energy they feed back into the grid. Under the new rules, which were finalized Wednesday, homeowners who already have solar panels can continue to receive credit at the full retail rate for the power they produce for 15 years. Those who install solar energy systems in 2018 or later would see the credits gradually reduced over time.
The PUC’s changes were strongly criticized by installation companies and environmental groups, as well as by Gov. Paul LePage, a critic of the state’s renewable energy policies.
On Wednesday, the Natural Resources Council of Maine denounced the three-member PUC for adopting “some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation.” Dylan Voorhees, NRCM’s climate and clean energy director, predicted the rules will “stifle investment in clean, local, solar power” and accused the commission of adopting the rules without analyzing the costs and benefits of net metering.
“NRCM will pursue every opportunity to overturn the PUC’s extreme anti-solar rules,” Voorhees said in a written statement. “The best and swiftest solution is for the Legislature to enact an effective law to move Maine forward this session, before these extreme rules take effect at the end of 2017. The Legislature should be setting solar policy in Maine, not the PUC. With others, NRCM is also likely to file a ‘motion for reconsideration’ with the PUC, giving them one last chance to set aside these extreme changes.”
However, it is unclear whether such a bill could pass the Legislature and become law. The PUC took up the issue after the Legislature fell two votes short last year of overriding LePage’s veto of a bill to revamp Maine’s solar policy. Both the House and Senate are even more closely divided this year than during the 2016 legislative session.
The Conservation Law Foundation also expressed its disapproval of the new rules.
“Imagine you make the decision to save money by using a clothesline rather than a dryer, but at the end of the month you are billed for the energy you saved,” Sean Mahoney, director of the foundation’s Maine Advocacy Center, said in a written statement. “That’s what the PUC has just done to every family and business that uses solar power. Revoking the incentive structure alone would have been outrageous, but to go one step further and actually charge us for electricity we’re not buying is downright criminal.”
LePage, meanwhile, also has railed against a PUC decision that he insists will force all ratepayers to continue subsidizing installations of solar energy systems on private homes. Last month, LePage even called for the resignations of the three commissioners, Mark Vannoy, Bruce Williamson and Carlisle McLean.
“I will tell you, and I make no bones about it, I am enormously disappointed in the PUC,” LePage said during a Feb. 10 news conference. “Those were all appointments that I have made. I thought that they understood that my only request, my only request on energy was this: Lower the cost and do no harm to the environment.”
LePage cannot remove commissioners, but will soon have an opportunity to nominate someone to replace McLean, who formerly served as his chief legal counsel and natural resources adviser. McLean’s term ends this month.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at: