Maine’s Solar Election Guide, Part 1: Will Solar Gain Support in the Blaine House in 2018?
The past eight years have been a struggle for the modernization of solar energy policy in Maine. As the state entered the LePage administration’s first term, solar rebates were available for residents and homeowners. The state’s net metering statute, which requires Central Maine Power and Emera Maine to provide a full credit for every kilowatt-hour delivered to the grid, was fully intact. Most importantly, Maine’s policies encouraged the installation of highly valuable solar energy on the grid in a manner that protected the financial interests of all ratepayers.
As we near Election Day 2018, Maine is at a critical crossroads related to solar power. Ratepayer investment in the popular solar rebate program ended in 2011. Though the Maine Public Utilities Commission conducted a study that concluded that solar has far more value to Maine ratepayers than the compensation received by solar customers via net metering, state regulators and legislators enacted rules that modestly reduce the value of credits to solar owners in a manner that is highly costly to all other ratepayers. The next governor and legislature will have some significant issues to grapple with related to distributed solar energy in 2019.
As has been seen over the past eight years, executive leadership in the state can have a significant impact on solar energy development. Thus far, the 2010s have shown us how little is accomplished when leadership pits highly capable and passionate Mainers against one another instead of working together to move the state forward. The Maine governor’s race is the single most critical vote on solar on this year’s ballot. In this blog post, we examine the public positions of the four candidates vying to be Maine’s next governor.
*Our Election Guide is provided for informational purposes only, and none of the information in this article represents an endorsement by Insource Renewables.
Read Part 2 of our Solar Election 2018 Guide that focuses on Maine’s legislative races.
Alan Caron (Independent)
Caron has been one of the strongest voices on solar in the field to-date. One of his major platform positions is to reduce the $5 billion of energy dollars that Mainers export from our state annually by focusing on the development of distributed solar generation and offshore wind. This position is consistent with Caron’s public positions. In his 2015 book, Maine’s Next Economy, Caron identified the importance of renewable energy — particularly solar — as an economic driver for Maine. He and his family participated in Solarize Freeport, installing a rooftop solar photovoltaic system as part of the state’s inaugural solar bulk purchase program. Caron’s organization, Envision Maine, highlighted Insource Renewables’ founder and president Vaughan Woodruff in 2017 at the “Rural Maine’s Next Economy” conference in 2017. If elected, Caron wants to see Maine reach energy independence in 30 years. More information on his current and past positions can be found at his campaign website and in a column he wrote for the Central Maine newspapers in 2016. In the most comprehensive discussion regarding energy to date — E2Tech’s Gubernatorial Candidate Forum — Caron also expressed frustration with Central Maine Power. “Of course CMP wants [to gold plate the grid]. That’s where they make their money. It’s not that complicated,” said Caron. “And they want a bigger grid and they want more spending so then they can recover it from ratepayers. I would love to see us make a $200 to $250 million investment in decentralized energy production, particularly in solar.”
Verdict: Solar champion
Terry Hayes (Independent)
In her former role as state treasurer, Hayes had little to no interaction with state solar policy. During the E2Tech event, the Free Press reports that “Hayes said she does not have an energy policy or a position on whether the state should incentivize renewable energy because it’s not a policy area she has spent a lot of time researching. She said that while she prefers to have a ‘level playing field’ when it comes to energy sources, she recognizes that it may be ‘unlevel’ due to government subsidies for fossil fuels.” While the expansion of the use of solar in Maine has not been one of Hayes’ chief policy concerns, she is aware of Maine’s lack of comprehensive solar policy, has publicly voiced support for the growth of commercial and residential solar for small-scale, mid-scale, and large-scale applications, and recognizes opportunities to utilize solar energy and efficiency to avoid unneeded investments to upsize the state’s transmission infrastructure. She has expressed a desire to re-engage the governor’s office in stakeholder efforts to shape effective policy and would have signed into law the 2016 bill to modernize solar compensation had she been governor at the time. Hayes’ most comprehensive stance on solar to-date can be found in her responses to a Maine Audubon survey published in George Smith’s Outdoor News blog at Bangor Daily News.
Verdict: Solar supporter
Janet Mills (Democrat)
Mills joins Caron as the other outspoken voice in favor of modernizing solar policy. Mills has been a champion of conservation in her previous terms in the Maine legislature and as Maine’s Attorney General. Her campaign has been very active in its efforts to highlight the potential for solar in Maine, and her energy platform has significant emphasis on expanding Maine’s utilization of solar power. Mills’ campaign website highlights solar as a key component of her energy policy and includes significant detail on how to best address the arbitrary barriers that have held Maine industry back during the past administration. Her policy positions are nuanced and recognize the means by which Maine can maximize the benefits of responsible solar development. During multiple public speaking engagements, she has spoken openly of her desire to capitalize on the potential for solar jobs through expanding the use of solar in Maine. “We talk about workforce development and we talk about attracting young people back to the state of Maine or encouraging them to stay here; the solar energy industry is one area that attracts them,” said Mills. “We know that fewer than 600 people in Maine work in the solar industry. In Massachusetts, more than 14,000 people work in solar.”
Verdict: Solar champion
Shawn Moody (Republican)
Moody’s policy positions related to solar are rather unclear. On one hand, his business — Moody’s Collision Center — used its tax appetite to facilitate the implementation of solar energy at the Maine Audubon property in Falmouth, and the Moody campaign has highlighted this investment on their website and in the opening statement of the recent Portland Press Herald debate. On the other hand, his campaign has aligned itself with a continuation of Paul Lepage’s policies, and Moody failed to show up for Maine’s most comprehensive energy policy debate hosted by E2Tech. His campaign website mentions that Moody aims to increase the use of “cost-effective” renewable technologies. While attractive on the surface, the LePage administration has used this language to advocate the implementation of large-scale solar and to diminish smaller scale projects — a position that ignores the value of installing solar panels where energy is being consumed and undermines consumer choice by giving utility companies unnecessary control over renewable energy development. There is some reason for optimism, but more details are needed on Moody’s plans to make a reasonable conclusion on his position. Moody’s campaign did not respond to a request for clarification in advance of this article.