AUGUSTA — Several members of a protest led by Quakers were arrested Monday afternoon at Central Maine Power headquarters over solar power and net metering. Net metering refers to the means by which producers of solar power are credited by the power company for electricity they send into the grid.

About 30 protesters assembled at CMP’s Edison Drive facility at noontime, with one hoisting a homemade sign reading “Let’s move beyond petroleum to a clean energy future.” The protesters were not allowed inside the CMP building lobby, but were allowed in the parking lot, where they sang songs about the sun and held up signs calling out CMP for being “shady.”

Just before 1 p.m., the group made its way to the front doors of the power company. The doors were locked. Augusta police were called. Rob Levin, a Portland Quaker, told the group to walk “calmly and non-violently” toward the doors.

“CMP has chosen to keep out ratepayers,” he said at the doors. “They’ve literally shut the doors on their ratepayers.”

Augusta police told everyone at the scene to leave the area immediately, or they would be arrested.

Protesters gather at the doors of Central Maine Power Co. headquarters in Augusta after being prevented from entering the lobby Monday. Staff photo by Colin Ellis

Four protesters, including Levin, from a group calling itself “Speak The Truth to CMP,” were willingly arrested after refusing to leave the property when told they were trespassing.

CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said the building was a secure facility “and has never been open to the public.”

“We were concerned about the safety of our employees and our systems,” she said, adding that CMP did not want protesters to cause a disruption.

Members of the public are not allowed in the lobby of the CMP headquarters without a scheduled meeting, a security guard said, and customers are referred to the company’s 800 number.

In a statement sent by the Quakers, who are members of the Religious Society of Friends, prior to the protest, the group said they were organizing “the first-of-its-kind Solar Counterlobby” to draw attention to CMP’s actions on net metering and solar power.

“We will literally and figuratively shine a light on CMP’s lobbying efforts to undermine solar power in Maine,” Anna Barnett, a North Yarmouth resident, said in the group’s statement. “We will also hold a nonviolent direct action civil disobedience event immediately following the counterlobby event. Many of us were not aware that CMP, our utility, played a key role in killing last year’s solar bill, and they are at it again this year. CMP is working against our community’s best interests here and we need to hold them accountable.”

Nathan Broaddus, a member of Portland Friends Meeting, said the protesters were an ad hoc group that had started organizing about a week ago. He said the goal was to raise public awareness about what they viewed as false claims by CMP about being pro-solar.

Broaddus said the group was hoping to reverse CMP’s stance against solar development, particularly against LD 1686, the latest bill before the Legislature that aims to maintain net metering, the billing mechanism that credits solar system owners for the electricity they put into the grid for up to 15 years after they apply for a net billing arrangement.

Rice maintained CMP was very much a pro-solar company, but the utility is concerned about net metering, in which every kilowatt hour exported to the grid earns a credit of equal value.

Augusta police Sgt. Danny Boivin arrests a protester at Central Maine Power in Augusta on Monday. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Under new rules proposed by the Public Utilities Commission, those net metering values were set to decrease, first to a 90 percent credit, then to an 80 percent credit, and so on. Rice said net metering is a “decades old” practice that was put in place to jump-start solar technology in Maine, which it did. But she said net metering is not a sustainable practice, and it is not fair because it compensates only those who can afford to have solar arrays installed in the first place.

“These credits unfairly shift maintenance costs to customers who do not have solar,” she said.

Rice said CMP remains in favor of solar power, but said the state needs to have a better compensation mechanism that doesn’t shift the burden onto non-solar customers.

“It’s a matter of fairness,” she said.

Mike White, a protester who was arrested, said CMP’s argument about net metering was “phony” and that solar “benefits everyone.”

Broaddus said they had hoped to have a meeting with CMP executives as well as raise public awareness. Despite not being allowed into the building, he said Monday was only “day one” of their efforts and they wouldn’t be stopped after that.

“We hope public pressure will really make a difference on their attitude to the solar bill,” Broaddus said.

Just before the four protesters were arrested, Broaddus said it was “disappointing, but not totally unexpected” that they had not been allowed inside the CMP building. He said he figured they would be ignored when they got there, but said it was disappointing to see CMP was “unwilling to have a discussion on it.”

Broaddus said CMP was aware of what public scrutiny might accomplish and that CMP played a strong role in defining the policy they’re tasked with implementing.

“As awareness of their role grows, we may have swelling of numbers,” he said, adding that, given how little time the protesters took to plan, the turnout on the cold Monday afternoon was good.

Peter Garrett, of Winslow, attended the rally and conceded the protest was an “unusual” way of bringing attention to the issue. Garrett, who left the protest once police officers told people to leave, said the response highlighted for him a stark shift in tone by Central Maine Power over the years.

“It’s now very much a conglomerate run from away,” he said, referring to CMP’s parent-company Avangrid. “They’re interested in making money for shareholders. CMP used to be interested in us, customers.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

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Twitter: @colinoellis