Maine lawmakers have passed legislation to overturn gross metering and restore full net metering compensation for solar panel owners.
The bill now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who campaigned during the recent election season to fully repeal the 2017 regulatory order that allows utilities to charge solar producers for electricity consumed behind the meter while compensating them for all the generation they produce but at a lower rate. Before that order went into effect, the net metering rules in place at the time compensated solar owners for excess electricity actually exported to the grid at more favorable rates and essentially ignored power that was produced and subsequently consumed behind the meter.
In a March 21 vote, the Maine Senate passed by 32-0 An Act To Eliminate Gross Metering (L.D. 91/H.P. 77) and concurred with the state House of Representatives, which had originally passed the bill Feb. 26 in a 93-48 vote.
The gross metering rates that the legislation seeks to repeal were adopted in March 2017 and implemented in May 2018 by the state Public Utilities Commission. The PUC had crafted the gross metering rate scheme to tackle a perceived cost shift among consumers after net metering reached 1% of the peak loads of utilities within Maine. The state's two large investor-owned utilities, Avangrid Inc.'s Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Inc.'s Emera Maine, had asserted that the growing share of distributed solar generation was shifting the financial burden of maintaining transmission and distribution unfairly on to other consumers.
Rather than providing full compensation as previous net metering rules did for the generation that solar owners produce and load on to the grid, gross metering offers reduced compensation for nettable energy based on the gross output of both generation consumed on-site and excess generation exported to the grid with the help of a second meter at each resource. The gross metering compensation rates are locked in for 15 years from the date of a project's installation but gradually are reduced by 10% every year for new customers.
A subsequent December 2018 ruling by the PUC exempted solar generation produced by midsize and large businesses from being subjected to gross metering rules, citing excessive costs to all ratepayers in implementing the policy. However, gross metering still applies to the transmission and distribution portions of energy credit bills for residential and small-business customers.
"Maine's return to net metering is only the beginning of our re-emergence as a regional and national clean energy leader," said bill sponsor Rep. Seth Berry, a Democrat, in reference to the end of Republican former Gov. Paul LePage's eight-year administration. As an opponent of renewables, LePage successfully vetoed legislation passed in 2017 and 2018 that also sought to restore net metering.
With a new administration that favors renewables in place, Mills is expected to sign L.D. 91 soon, Berry said in an email. "Much more is to come, but today we can celebrate the elimination of an absurd and anti-solar rule that was costing more than it was saving, even by the utilities' own measures," he said.
In recent testimony in favor of L.D. 91, the Natural Resources Council of Maine's Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhees contrasted what he described as the fairness and simplicity of net metering against the "regulatory boondoggle with no obvious benefit" that is gross metering.
"Gross metering requires the installation of a second meter, at expense to all ratepayers, to measure the full output of behind the meter generation, apart from the net flow of electricity to and from the grid," Voorhees explained to a legislative panel. "Customers' bills are then netted against total generation, regardless of whether that power is consumed behind the meter or exported. Gross metering essentially requires customers to pay a delivery charge on power consumed behind the meter."
Voorhees reminded lawmakers that Maine's policy for decades under net metering was that solar customers ought to be able to make energy efficiency and other changes behind the meter to reduce their demand from the grid without penalty. "There is no basis for discriminating against self-generation of power which is also self-consumed behind the meter," he said.