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Maine lawmakers 3 votes short in effort to override veto of net metering bill

Maine lawmakers failed to override Gov. Paul LePage's veto of legislation to keep but gradually reduce net metering compensation for solar rooftop panels. LePage wants to phase out net metering over the next three years and opposed the bill for setting net energy billing "into statute in perpetuity" by leaving further cuts beyond 2020 up to the discretion of regulators.

The attempted veto override of L.D. 1504 passed Maine's Senate in a 28-6 vote on Aug. 2 but fell three votes shorts of that needed in the House. The bill, which overwhelmingly passed the legislature, sought to tweak new regulations for compensating solar photovoltaic systems by continuing to credit their owners at the full retail rate on the transmission and distribution portion of their electricity bills for nettable output until 2018. Thereafter, credits at locked-in rates would have been reduced by 10% each year for new installations until 2020, after which the PUC could, at its discretion, continue cutting the rates by up to 10% annually.

L.D. 1504 also sought to lift a cap on how many users could connect to a shared or community solar project and would have directed the PUC to enter into 20-year contracts to procure 50-MW of large-scale commercial solar distributed generation and conduct a benefit-cost analysis of net metering before making recommendations to lawmakers about new solar incentives.

"Today’s failure is one that has a direct impact on the wallets of businesses and families across our state," said Emily Green, an attorney with the pro-renewable Conservation Law Foundation advocacy group. “Despite the bill’s overwhelming passage in June and widespread public support, clean energy in Maine has once again fallen victim to Governor LePage’s and utilities’ anti-progress stance."

In April 2016, LePage vetoed a previous compromise bill that would have grandfathered existing solar users and replaced net metering with a "pay for production" rate. The push to replace or modify net metering was triggered in 2015, after net metering reached 1% of the peak loads of utilities within Maine. Utilities argued that the growing share of distributed solar generation shifts the financial burden of maintaining transmission to remaining consumers.

The sustaining of the Republican governor's veto results in the continuation of Maine Public Utilities Commission's new regulations that the vetoed legislation sought to modify. Issued in March, the regulations include a gradual 10% annual step-down of net energy billing over 10 years for new customers, starting in 2018, based on the gross output for both generation used behind the meter and excess generation exported to the grid with the help of an additional meter at each resource. These PUC changes are also opposed by LePage, who wants a faster three-year phaseout and has called for the resignation of the PUC members for their stance.