Maine steps up clean energy turnaround, tees up 80% RPS, pro-solar bills

Source: By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive • Posted: Friday, June 14, 2019

Clean energy policies developed under Mills mark a sharp departure from the previous administration.

Former Gov. Paul LePage, R, established a number of controversial energy policies including a wind energy moratorium that stopped all turbine development in the state and a controversial “gross metering” policy, which many saw as a rollback of net metering.

After the midterm elections, things changed quickly. Mills won and the Senate shifted democratic, giving Maine a majority in both legislative chambers. The wind moratorium was reversed in February and net metering was reestablished in March.

“One of the interesting things about this session has been that we have strong conservation and clean energy majorities in both chambers. And we have a governor who wants to make progress on clean energy and conservation,” Kathleen Meil, director of policy & partnerships at Maine Conservation Voters, told Utility Dive.

“And so the question has been more about how bipartisan the support would be and less about whether we could eke out a victory. And certainly it’s our preference to have the strongest bipartisan support possible because we really want to make durable, lasting change,” she said.

One of the more anticipated bills of the session is the state’s comprehensive solar bill, which is expected to drive deployment in the state by removing “arbitrary barriers” set up by the past administration, said Meil.

“Energy independence specifically is something that resonates really strongly with Maine people,” said Meil. “We’re talking about people who have cut the wood on their own land for generations and now they’re saying, ‘Wait, instead of cutting the wood, I can capture the sun that’s shining on my roof? Of course I want to do that. Don’t get in my way.'”

The bill, L.D. 1711, removes the cap on community solar net metering participants, previously set at nine participants, to 200 and removes the cap entirely for customers participating in community solar farms under competitive procurement.

“We’ve seen our new England neighbors really just far out surpass us in solar penetration and people have really been just desperate for this kind of progress,” she said.

If passed, the state’s renewable portfolio standard, L.D. 1494, will also represent a major shift in the state’s clean energy policy.

Maine previously had an RPS of 40%, split by 10% class one renewables, largely biomass, and 30% class two renewables, largely hydropower. Now, a clause allowing “refurbished” biomass facilities to qualify has been eliminated and class one renewables will need to meet more stringent, high value, low impact requirements, with the aim to encourage broader solicitation of wind and solar resources.

Out of the three bills approved this week, L.D. 1464 will likely have the largest impact on the electricity sector, according to Meil, by shifting the role of the state’s efficiency program, allowing it to advance beneficial electrification.

“Up to this point, Efficiency Maine’s mandate has been very clearly to reduce consumption,” said Meil. “And that makes sense, except that if we transition from oil heat to high efficiency, cold weather heat pumps, if we transition from gas powered cars to electric vehicles, we actually will increase our electricity consumption while decreasing our overall emissions.”

L.D. 1494 moved out of the House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology Tuesday, with an 11-1 bipartisan vote and is expected to head to the Senate either Friday or next week. L.D. 1711 also passed the committee and is expected to be voted on next week.