Maine legislators push to override veto of controversial solar policy

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Changes to net metering and other aspects of distributed solar policy in the United States are often hard-fought battles. However, few policies have seen as tortured a route to passage as a bill which may be re-considered by the Maine legislature after a veto by Governor Paul LePage (R).

LD 1649 would re-write Maine’s distributed solar policies. Under the bill PV projects under 250 kW would move a self-consumption model, allowing unlimited customer use of electricity with a rate for excess electricity to the grid to be set by state regulators. For PV projects above 250 kW, it would set a series of auctions under which 129 MW would be procured by 2021.

The bill was the result of extensive compromises both inside and outside the state government, and is backed by Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sierra Club and local installers. It has been opposed by the Sunrun-backed Alliance for Solar Choice, which has consistently opposed any policy to compensate distributed solar that is not retail-rate net metering.

Provisions in the bill to keep prices in check allowed for a broad bipartisan compromise, and the bill passed the state’s Senate 35-0 and its House of Representatives 91-56. This was not good enough for Maine Governor LePage, who demanded multiple concessions and finally vetoed the bill.

In an April 20 radio address regarding the veto, Governor LePage blamed “Liberals in the Legislature” and warned of potential impacts on industry via electricity rates. Such claims have little technical basis, given that much of the electricity produced by distributed solar would be used on-site, and that the total amount of solar deployed will be only around 200 MW over five years, a tiny portion of the state’s overall generation.

The governor also made a number of claims about the bill and the process which have been denied by the bill’s authors and supporters, such as denying the existence of a price cap.

It takes a 2/3 vote of both houses to override a veto, but the peculiar dynamics of Maine politics make such an outcome more probable. “(Governor LePage) vetoes like a madman,” explains Natural Resources Council of Maine Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhees.

Supporters of LD1649 stated yesterday that they may have enough votes to override the veto, and pv magazine expects a House vote on the bill on Friday morning.