Throughout the world, the nation and our region, governments are partnering with the private sector to foster the critical transition to clean, renewable energy. Maine has lagged far behind and continues to see valuable green energy jobs and billions of energy dollars leave the state each year. Maine’s regressive solar policy stands in the way of a just and equitable transition to a clean, green economy. Now is the time for Maine lawmakers to step up and stem the tide of capital and talent leaving this state and bolster Maine’s reputation as an environmental leader.

In 2017-2018, The Center for an Ecology Based Economy, a climate action organization in the town of Norway, participated in the Solar in Your Community Challenge, a U.S. Department of Energy program to “bring solar to all Americans, especially underserved communities …” CEBE was one of nearly 200 groups nationwide selected to participate. We were awarded $20,000 in technical support to develop a detailed and replicable business model to serve low- and moderate-income households in our rural western Maine community who want access to solar power. CEBE’s Energy Working Group dedicated more than a thousand hours to work with a variety of community members and expert consultants to hammer out a plan.

Through a series of public forums attended by more than 100 citizens, as well as through individual meetings, CEBE reached out to small businesses and low- and moderate-income community members, finding overwhelming support for community solar. Especially attractive to both individuals and businesses was the predictability of their energy bills over the next three to four decades, regardless of potential volatility in fossil energy markets. Many, however, simply expressed a desire to do the right thing for the environment.

Despite the strong desires of many in our community to transition to clean renewable energy, our community solar farm remains unbuilt, due in large part to Maine’s confusing, regressive and unstable solar policy. Three issues, in particular, hampered us.

First, the arbitrary limit of 10 subscribers that can participate in a community solar project made it difficult to achieve economies of scale, especially since low- and moderate-income households tend to be more frugal users of electricity than more affluent consumers.

Second, many local small businesses owners are being excluded from accessing solar power through the state’s current net metering policy. They pay less for actual kilowatt hours used, but are often faced with excessive and expensive “demand charges” that are not compensated for through current net-metering policy, thus making solar energy cost-prohibitive. Solar energy is a great way for Maine businesses to control energy costs and we should make that transition easier, not more difficult.

Third, many potential investors were justifiably wary of the project due to the lack of consistent policy. The cap on participants, which limited the project size, also limited their projected return on investment.

LD 1711, proposed by Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, would lift the cap for community solar participants to 200. It would also create an opt-in pilot project for non-residential customers, including our local businesses, that would provide monetary credits as an alternative to net-metering. Finally, it provides specific targets for expanding access to low and moderate income families, so we can provide all Mainers, regardless of their income, the opportunity to take advantage of the clean, affordable energy they so desire and deserve.

Now is the time for bold, transformational leadership to propel Maine to the forefront of the much-needed transition to a stable, prosperous, ecology-based economy with living wages and a tenable future for generations to come. By enabling Mainers to become more energy independent, Sen. Dow’s solar bill is an important step in the right direction.

We can and must do this. Maine has the resources and ingenuity to help lead this clean energy transition and the clock is ticking. Please join CEBE in supporting this critical piece of legislation. There is a public hearing for LD 1711 scheduled for Thursday May 16.

The time is now and now is our time.

Scott Vlaun is executive director for the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy in Norway.

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