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Override of Solar-Bill Veto Fails in Maine Legislature

Supporters of LD 1444 say the Maine PUC rule would make ratepayers pay for the solar power they are generating themselves. (RoyBuri/Pixabay)
Supporters of LD 1444 say the Maine PUC rule would make ratepayers pay for the solar power they are generating themselves. (RoyBuri/Pixabay)
April 6, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine – With a shift of six votes, the Maine House of Representatives on Thursday upheld Gov. Paul LePage's veto of a solar-energy bill – but the battle isn't over. The final tally was two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override.

The bill, LD 1444, would prevent the Public Utilities Commission from charging Mainers with solar installations for the electricity they produce. According to Beth Ahearn, political director with the group Maine Conservation Voters, defeat of the bill means those who have solar power will be required to have new electric meters, too.

"The cost of that meter is between $600 and $1,000 per meter, and that cost of installing that meter is going to be picked up by all ratepayers," says Ahearn.

LePage's view is that net metering, which compensates people for energy they put into the electric grid, subsidizes solar panels installed by wealthy households at the expense of those who can't afford them. After the vote, the measure was tabled in the House and will be reconsidered next week.

Supporters of the bill explain net metering isn't a subsidy at all. Ahearn notes that, under the PUC's plan, ratepayers who invested in solar installations will be the big losers.

"Now they're going to be charged in their homes for the solar they use,” says Ahearn. “It's kind of like growing your own vegetables before you sell them at the market, and you're going to be charged for the vegetables you grow in your own garden."

The vetoed bill also would lift the PUC's nine-person cap on community solar farms, which backers say discourages larger-scale installations that make solar power more accessible to low-income people

In addition, Ahearn says the PUC's rule requiring metering of ratepayer-generated electricity would be a violation of consumers' privacy.

"This is unprecedented. This has been done nowhere in the country, nowhere in the world that we know of,” says Ahearn. “The utilities are going to know exactly the solar that you use in your home, and charge you for it."

The PUC's metering rule is also being challenged in the courts.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME