Solar Law and Economic Development
After arduous six months of negotiations, representatives of our pubic utilities, solar industry, municipalities, and rate payers have proposed a comprehensive solar power policy for Maine. LD-1649 aims to increase solar installations from 20 MW today to 250 MW over the next five years. Existing solar customers can stay with net metering through 2029, with an option to enter into a 20-year contract for the highest rate offered. For new solar customers, retail net metering is replaced by a tariff-based rate structure. For residential customers this won’t be much different from net metering, but it will make certain types of commercial, industrial, and grid-scale projects, as well as community solar farms, more financially viable. Today's ceiling of 9 participants per solar farm is eliminated, making it practical for towns to recycle capped landfills into community solar farms, positively impacting local taxes.
To connect some dots, Maine has been losing jobs and 2015 was globally the hottest year on record. Our paper industry once employed 18,000; now it has only 3,133 – a loss of 83%. And as the Gulf of Maine warms, cold loving marine species – cod, ground fish, shrimp, Atlantic salmon -- migrate to cooler waters and warm water diseases, like lobster shell disease spread. Excess CO2 dissolved in Gulf waters forms carbonic acid, which interferes with calcium carbonate shell formation, impacting lobsters, clams, oysters, even plankton. The marine food chain is disrupted. Invasive species threaten soft-shelled clams, sea urchins and eels.
To avoid anthropogenic climate change jeopardizing our fishery’s 22,000 jobs, we must drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. My own rooftop solar system reduces my carbon emissions by almost 5 tons, or roughly 1 ton per kW generating capacity per year. That’s 1,000 tons per MW, or 250,000 tons each year, once LD-1649’s goal of 250 MW installed solar is reached.
Thanks to my solar/heatpump system, I no longer heat with oil and have cut my heating bill in half. Mainers spend ~$2 Billion annually on heating fuel – and all of it leaves the Maine economy. Imagine halving that bill: and investing the savings one time in systems like mine: we would not only save ~$1 billion every year thereafter, but also create 15,000 well paying solar jobs that cannot be exported. According to a U-Mass study, for every $1 million invested, the solar industry creates 15 jobs (compared to 5 for oil and gas).
Solar power reduces everybody’s power bills. Last year’s Maine PUC solar study valued Maine-generated solar power at 33¢/ kWh — over twice the current residential rate. In other words, solar power costs far less, because it replaces more expensive peak power; reduces pollution and related health care costs; lowers distribution costs; reduces the need for new power plants; stabilizes generating costs: and improves energy security by diversifying and decentralizing the energy supply.
LD 1649 isn’t perfect, but it is sound policy. We mustn’t allow it to become a partisan football. There are no Democratic or Republican electrons — nor conservative or liberal jobs.