Net Energy Billing Debate Rages On

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A solar eruptive prominence as seen in extreme UV light on March 30 2010 with Earth superimposed for a sense of scale image Credit to NASA and SDOYou may have heard of solar storms in earth science or geophysics classes in school, right? Well, there is a new kind of solar storm kicking up in Augusta this year, and it’s a corker.

Following the January 31, 2017 decision by the Maine Public Utilities Commission to change net energy billing rules for Maine, renewable energy advocates have raised loud objections to the rule changes and questioned the MPUC’s authority to make the changes outside of the legislative process.

To be clear, in colloquial parlance, this is being referred to by many as a change in solar energy policy, when the net energy billing rules actually affect any small, distributed energy generation installations, such as micro hydro, micro wind or tidal mills to generate our own power. If we want to connect any power we generate ourselves to the grid and have it metered against our monthly electric bills, it falls under the net energy billing rules.

The new rule would gradually reduce and then phase out the amount of money that small power generators could credit against the transmission and delivery (T&D) portion of their electric bills.

The Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals’ committee on renewable energy calls the MPUC decision “…extreme, unjustified, and harmful to Maine people and businesses. Continued policy and regulatory uncertainty is crippling Maine’s ability to grow a robust solar industry that will actually lower everyone’s electrical rates. The PUC’s vote to adopt a drastic final rule demonstrates that the Legislature needs to act to regain control of Maine’s solar policy.” Read their full statement here.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine is circulating a petition asking people to stand behind its efforts to file a formal “motion to reconsider” with the MPUC. This motion would make three assertions:

1. The PUC solar decision was not made in the public interest. It was not based on any analysis of how net metering affects ratepayers, which is essential to complete before deciding on changes.

2. The PUC solar decision will increase costs for all Maine ratepayers because it will slow the growth of solar. The PUC failed to consider how net metering and more solar power benefits ratepayers.

Forcing homeowners and businesses to pay the utilities a fee for the solar power that they generate and use in their own homes or businesses is unfair, costly, irrational, and likely illegal.

3. The PUC decision is biased toward maximizing utilities' revenues and against the interest of Maine people. The rule will increase transmission and distribution costs for all ratepayers.

In response to all the furor, the Maine Public Utilities Commission has published a FAQ sheet that spells out all the rule changes it made, why it made these changes, when they go into effect and how they would affect people’s transmission & delivery (T&D) rates over the course of time, if they were to put solar systems into service in different years. Download the FAQ here.

Image Credit: NASA/SDO