Solar power is under attack in Maine. Recently, a number of misleading columns have blamed net energy billing for Maine’s high electricity rates. What’s worse, this theory has been promoted by the Office of the Public Advocate, which was established to protect the interests of ratepayers.

Net energy billing was designed to accelerate Maine’s clean energy transition by incentivizing development of distributed solar energy projects. Net energy billing allows the owners of solar projects to offset their electric bills using credits generated when their solar array produces excess power, which is sold into the grid.

The Office of the Public Advocate and others have suggested that net energy billing is responsible for rapidly rising electrical prices. This is a diversionary tactic to distract public attention from the actual causes, including high fossil fuel prices – especially natural gas – that have doubled ratepayers’ bills in two years. Solar power reduces Maine’s dependence on volatile foreign fossil fuels and provides many other benefits not currently counted by the Office of the Public Advocate, the Public Utilities Commission or utilities. If these benefits were accurately accounted for, we would see that distributed solar generation lowers Maine ratepayers’ electricity bills, according to both the 2022 Economic Assessment prepared for the Maine Governor’s Energy Office and the 2015 Maine Distributed Solar Valuation Study commissioned by the PUC.

The Office of the Public Advocate seems to be acting on behalf of utilities and out-of-state oil and gas companies, not Maine ratepayers. The OPA has been advocating against L.D. 1986, a bill that would require utilities and the PUC to fairly account for the benefits of distributed energy projects, while also reducing the “losses” utilities claim and charge ratepayers for. During L.D. 1986’s public hearing in May, the only opposition came from the OPA, Central Maine Power, Versant Power and the Industrial Energy Consumer Group. It is astonishing to us that the OPA has aligned with big businesses in this way.

Net energy billing can and should be updated. Not all solar is created equal; out-of-state developers rushed into Maine because of its generous incentive program. Both sides of the political aisle agree that large-scale projects should be developed under competitive procurement, not net energy billing.

We want Mainers to responsibly site and own small-scale solar projects that simultaneously strengthen our communities and the electrical grid. We want municipalities and low- and moderate-income ratepayers to be able to reduce costs and build equity through solar ownership.

Two net energy billing bills are now before Maine’s House and Senate. L.D. 1347 harms solar and ratepayers alike by removing the ability for low-and moderate-income ratepayers to leverage net energy billing and benefit from small, shared solar arrays. By contrast, L.D. 1986 puts large-scale projects into competitive procurement but maintains a pathway for small community projects that could not be built without the support of net energy billing. Under L.D. 1347, only the very wealthy will be able to own solar. L.D. 1986 addresses large-scale arrays while supporting the small-scale solar development that actually benefits Maine communities and ratepayers.

We need leaders with vision. The transition off fossil fuels is underway and Maine can lead or be left behind. The federal Inflation Reduction Act makes billions of dollars available for clean-energy projects that benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities. Other states are rushing to take advantage of these funds. By indiscriminately rolling back net energy billing to stymie solar development, the Office of the Public Advocate and L.D. 1347 could cost Maine millions in federal funding. Maine pays some of the highest electricity costs in the nation; we do not have the luxury of turning away from the solutions – and funding – at our fingertips.

We ask Maine’s legislators to remember who they are working for.

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