Legislators who want to move Maine’s energy policy forward should support Gov. LePage’s veto of L.D. 1504, An Act To Modernize Rates for Small-scale Distributed Generation.

Despite the title’s promise, the bill locks in an outdated and expensive subsidy for the businesses that install private solar systems. It also unfairly shifts costs to everyone who pays an electric bill and delays opportunities for solar energy to make a more meaningful difference for Maine’s environment and economy. As president of Maine’s largest electric utility, I believe our customers – and our state – should not be held back by these narrow special interests.

With today’s technology, solar energy has new potential to deliver environmental and economic benefits for Maine. Our company has some of the most advanced grid technology in the U.S., and parallel advances in solar technology have created entirely new opportunities that were unattainable only a decade ago. We now have the ability to combine cost-effective, renewable energy resources and the power of dynamic energy markets to maximize the benefits of solar technology for everyone. However, L.D. 1504 preserves 1990s-era regulations that lock in inefficient solutions and could burden Central Maine Power’s customers with as much as $150 million in unfair costs between now and 2035.

The companies that install private solar energy systems built their businesses around an outdated state energy policy called net energy billing. Put in place more than 30 years ago, this policy provided a simple and effective incentive to jumpstart evolving technologies such as rooftop photovoltaic systems. Today, solar technology is a proven success. A recent study of the industry by Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that the costs for PV panels are down 90 percent since the 1990s. The market for private solar has taken off, and despite that progress, the incentives haven’t changed.

The success has had unintended consequences for customers of the state’s electric utilities. Today, the people who invest in private solar systems earn their return on the investment by shifting millions of dollars of grid operating costs onto those who don’t or can’t make the same investment. That is simply not fair.

The Maine Legislature, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate and the Maine Public Utilities Commission have acknowledged the unfairness of this cost shift. In 2015, the Maine Legislature passed a resolve calling for the development of “an alternative to net energy billing that fairly and transparently allocates the costs and benefits of distributed generation to all customers.”

After working with stakeholders for nearly a year, the PUC developed an alternative rule that provided an equitable transition away from the net metering subsidy, while providing long-term (15 years) protection for the owners of existing systems and slowly winding down the cost shift. The commission’s rule has drawn criticisms from all sides of the debate, yet it appropriately balances the different interests in the state and provides for a gradual transition away from net metering.

When the new Legislature convened in January, the special interests came back to reclaim their subsidy through state law in L.D. 1504. If they succeed, it will postpone progress in energy policy, unfairly shift costs to customers who cannot afford to install solar systems and continue to provide a windfall to solar customers while handing everyone else the bill.

The future of L.D. 1504 now hinges on the Legislature’s choice to sustain or overturn the veto. The issue of real progress versus status quo hangs in the balance.

The growth of private solar technology was financed in part by utility ratepayers through policies like net energy billing, while other technologies, such as smart meters, advanced as well. These investments in technology give us the opportunity to align the financial incentives for solar installers and private solar owners with our collective economic and environmental interests without imposing a $150 million premium on the rest of CMP’s residential and business customers.

The advocates for L.D. 1504 call it a step forward for solar, but in reality, it’s a step backward for everyone. A vote to sustain the governor’s veto will be a vote for fairness and a victory for those who support a serious response to the need for clean, renewable energy.