Opinion: Major loss for solar power, jobs, and Maine electricity customers

Maine Legislature fails to override LePage solar veto

Posted:  Wednesday, August 2, 2017 - 8:00pm

Today, the Maine House of Representatives voted to sustain Governor LePage's veto of the solar bill, despite the fact that the bill passed the House and Senate initially by more than a two-thirds super majority. Seven Republican legislators changed their position from their prior support and today voted to sustain LePage's veto of the measure. The Senate voted 28-6 to override and the House voted 88-48, falling three votes short of two-thirds.

"Today, too many lawmakers turned their back on jobs of the future for Maine and bowed to pressure from the Governor's office, Central Maine Power (CMP), Emera, and other utility and fossil fuel industry groups from across the nation," says Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in a news release. "They failed to support the small businesses that are struggling to create and sustain jobs from Kittery to Fort Kent, and they ignored the need and desire to transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources.

"At the strong urging of the governor, lawmakers today voted to raise electric bills, deny Mainers good jobs, generate more pollution, stall Maine's transition to clean energy, and make it harder for Maine people and businesses to generate their own solar power.

"This vote allows the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to begin its extreme, nationally unprecedented new tax on self-consumption of power. That's a bitter pill for a state whose forest products industry has long depended on the right to consume the power they produce without penalty, and bad news for a state trying to catch up on a revolutionary technology that allows every home and business to affordably produce their own power, too.

"The solar bill was a significant compromise, crafted almost exclusively by Republican lawmakers, and falling far short of the comprehensive solar bill considered in 2016, but the outcome was the same: the governor's baseless ideology, aided by false claims from utilities, prevented Maine from moving forward with clean solar energy.

"This vote was a clear loss for all Maine businesses except for two: the for-profit monopoly utilities, Emera and Central Maine Power, who will see their own guaranteed earnings increase as they spend additional ratepayer money on unnecessary new metering equipment and billing system changes. The PUC rule makes it harder for customers to choose solar, keeping us all more dependent on buying power from the monopolies and their increasingly expensive transmission system. And most disturbingly, the utilities will begin earning a 'delivery tax' on power that solar customers produce and consume, power that never touches the electricity grid.

"With their own profits at stake, it is not surprising that not only did CMP and Emera lobby aggressively with the governor to block this bill, but national utility groups, some with direct connections to the Koch Brothers, also spent heavily to defend the extreme PUC rule and block the bill. CMP's lobbying tactics against this bill were almost unbelievable, with misinformation, distractions, and changing statements at every turn. What is more surprising is that many legislators went along, allowing grossly misleading claims and scare tactics to change their votes.

"This failure leaves Maine with an arbitrary 10-person limit on community solar farms and allows the backward, extreme PUC rule on net metering to take effect. This rule will cost all Mainers who pay an electricity bill millions of dollars in the coming years, regardless of whether or not they have solar. Those voting to sustain today now must take responsibility for the increased costs on all ratepayers to implement this broken rule.

"We thank the bipartisan leaders who worked so hard on this bill this year, especially bill sponsor Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Franklin) and the co-chairs of the Energy & Utilities Committee, Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) and Sen. David Woodsome (R-York). On the other hand, it was very disappointing that Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram and ranking House Republican on the committee) voted to sustain LePage's veto after having written not one but both amendments that shaped the final bill. He changed his position so many times this session it was bewildering.

"After several years of reasonable compromise efforts to move forward with a modern solar policy, it is clear that Maine must free itself of the thoughtless ideology of its governor before progress can be made. (Either that or our policy must be decided in the courts or through direct referendum.) Until then it is likely that Maine will remain in last place regionally in one of the most significant clean energy technologies available today."

NRCM and allies including the Conservation Law Foundation, ReVision Energy, the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, and Insource Renewables, have previously filed a lawsuit in the Maine Supreme Court challenging the PUC's rule. That case should be decided by the end of the year.

The following legislators voted FOR LD 1504 when it passed, but voted AGAINST it after the governor vetoed the bill:
Rep. Cebra of Naples
Rep. Kinney of Limington
Rep. McElwee of Caribou
Rep. Wadsworth of Hiram
Rep. Seavey of Kennebunkport
Rep. Skolfield of Weld
Rep. Bradstreet of Vassalboro

The full roll-call of votes can be found here: http://www.mainelegislature.org/LawMakerWeb/rollcall.asp?ID=280064993&chamber=House&serialnumber=459