2016-07-08 / Community

Sustainable SoPo

The power of solar has many entities buzzing

Solar! We are seeing more and more of it in our community. It’s on homes, businesses and some city owned buildings. Many of us have it and many are considering getting it. The right solar installation can save you money and reduce your environmental impact. People are now even using it to charge their electric cars and run their heat pumps, further reducing their carbon output.

Solar seems to be in the news a lot lately, with plenty of coverage of legislative and regulatory debate, which folks in the industry call the “solar coaster.” There are now hundreds of workers in the local solar industry and, with stable policy, Maine could have hundreds more or even thousands of solar jobs.

In this edition of “Sustainable SoPo” we will provide a quick update on solar policy in Maine.

Maine – and most states around the country – has a market mechanism called “net metering.” Net metering is an electricity market structure whereby traditional users of electricity (homeowners and businesses) also provide value to the electricity grid by contributing electricity and other services. Net metering ensures that solar customers are fairly credited for any power they export to the grid.

Think of it this way – when a homeowner with solar on their roof is not home during the day, their solar energy goes through the grid to their neighbor’s home or business and the utility charges the neighbor for the electricity. The solar homeowner’s meter runs backwards, crediting them. Then they come home and run their house on solar until the sun sets. At night, when they draw electricity from the grid, their meter spins forward.

At the end of the month, they pay the difference to the utility. In Maine, you always pay a minimum bill to the utility, whether or not you used any electricity or if you produced more than you used. This is true for both solar and non-solar customers.

Unlike big generators, net-metered systems make power to serve end-use customers. The net-metered electricity generally travels short distances over distribution lines to reach neighboring homes or businesses. This reduces the need for all of us to pay for more substations and power lines. By contrast, power from wholesale generators must travel long distances over transmission and distribution lines before it reaches the final end user, which leads to higher costs and system losses.

Solar systems tend to generate power at times of peak demand, when the power is most needed. That is one of many reasons why nearly all independent studies find that solar net-metering benefits all electricity customers, whether they have solar or not. In fact, in 2015, a report prepared for the Maine Public Utilities Commission found that the 25-year levelized value of solar electricity in Maine is $0.337/kWh – well above the retail rate of electricity $0.13/kWh.

This means that solar in Maine is providing much more value than it is compensated for,

In Maine law, the Public Utilities Commission, which is a three-member regulatory body appointed by the governor, can undertake a review of net metering once we hit a certain threshold of solar deployed. Central Maine Power has said the threshold was hit last year.

The commission will spend the rest of the summer engaged in a review of net metering and will then answer a series of questions. These include whether current solar customers should be “grandfathered” and continue with net metering and whether net metering should be modified or even ended.

There are many groups active in Maine and engaged in this review. Some of the groups include the Maine Sierra Club, the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, as well as solar installers like ReVision Energy and Sundog Solar.

If you would like to learn more about the Commission process, solar in Maine, or get involved, you could reach out to one of the entities listed above. Or, you can always contact the Energy and Recycling Committee.

The South Portland Energy and Recycling Committee meets the third Wednesday of each month at the South Portland Community Center. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and are open to the public.

Return to top