I come from Maine, a small but mighty state. Don’t hold our demagogic governor against us; we are a beacon. The Maine Democratic Party was the first to abolish superdelegates. Mainers confronted the fossil-fuel industry, preventing tar sands from traversing our state. We are one of the only states in which the number of local farms increases while the age of farmers decreases. Now we send a warning to the rest of the nation: beware of Big Solar. Here in Maine, we’ve learned that the solar industry is not always the force for good that many believe it is.
“Big Solar” companies emerged to help catalyze and profit from the transition beyond fossil fuels. These companies build large solar farms and provide infrastructure for home owners to go solar. Their efforts are paying off. This year, the United States is set to double solar-energy development. For the first time, solar installments outpaced growth in the use of natural gas. Yet a drama fresh from the Maine State Legislature shows that Big Solar is prioritizing its business model over necessary innovation and the sovereignty of local communities.
L.D. 1649, “An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development,” was a groundbreaking solar bill that appeared before the Maine legislature in its most recent session. The bill proposed an additional 248 MW of solar power and a new solar purchasing and credit system. As Maine’s Portland Press Herald (PPH) reported: “The Maine solar bill would have replaced net metering with an innovative but untested alternative credit system that was crafted by a coalition of local solar installers, top Democrats, the state’s public advocate, utility companies and the state’s clean-energy and conservation groups.” This historic coalition and novel system attracted attention across the nation.
LD 1649 not only pioneered a new path for solar policy but also prioritized flexibility for energy consumers. Maine State Senator Chris Johnson, a strong proponent of the bill, told me: “Under the current system of net metering, communities don’t have a viable option for solar. People are not paid for the extra energy that they produce. This new system would have opened possibilities for people to be paid for the power that they produce in four sectors: grid scale, community level, commercial/industrial, and small business/residential.”
Unfortunately, this bill and Maine’s climate leadership was squashed by Governor, Paul LePage, in April 2016. The legislature failed to garner enough votes to override LePage’s veto. Since the bill’s defeat, solar projects have been scaled back or canceled, as they are no longer considered financially viable. Johnson said that he’s spoken to several local solar installers who are losing work due to uncertainty around Maine’s solar future.