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Conservationists: Delaying Net-Metering Rule Doesn’t Make It Better

The solar industry is one of the fastest-growing job sectors in Maine. (MariaGodfrida/Pixabay)
The solar industry is one of the fastest-growing job sectors in Maine. (MariaGodfrida/Pixabay)
December 7, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine – Implementation of a new rule for calculating electric bills for customers with wind or solar power has been delayed, but conservation groups say it would hurt families and businesses.

The Public Utilities Commission announced Tuesday that the rule, originally set to go into effect in January, has been postponed until the end of April. The rule rolls back net metering, which pays customers for the power they generate that is fed back into the electric grid.

But Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said the delay will not lessen the impact on a system that gives consumers incentives to install wind or solar.

"The rule would ultimately gut the incentives entirely,” Mahoney said. "And in fact, not only would it get rid of the incentives, it would impose a new charge on solar ratepayers."

A legal challenge to the new rule is scheduled for a court hearing next week. Critics of net metering say the dramatic decrease in the cost of wind and solar installations makes incentives obsolete.

But according to Mahoney, the new rule discriminates against people who generate some of their own power by charging for the electricity they're no longer getting from electric utilities.

"We don't do that for people who put in insulation or dry their clothes in the summertime outside or whose kids go off to college and no longer have six different iPhones and computers plugged in,” he said.

He argued that the new rule should be invalidated, because assessing those charges would violate various state laws.

While the changing economics of distributed generation such as wind and solar may warrant adjustments to net metering, Mahoney said he believes the incentives still are needed because the switch to renewables benefits everyone.

"It reduces the overall costs on the system, it increases independence," he said; "and using renewable energy is much better than using oil or coal.”

About forty states now have net metering policies in place.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME