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Bringing Clean Energy to Maine – LD 1085

[Updated April 25]

A public hearing for possibly the most important bill in the 126th Maine Legislature was held on Wednesday, April 24 at 1 pm before the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology. Working with 350 Maine, I’m happy to report that we packed the room!

LD 1085, “An Act To Establish the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff,” would make clean solar power economically viable for everyone in Maine.

Under current law you get “net metering” credits or fluctuating wholesale prices for feeding solar electricity to the grid. Under a feed-in tariff, you would get paid a fair price for it. This turns every sunny roof in Maine into a money-making business opportunity.

If this bill becomes law, we will unleash private investment to build sustainable energy infrastructure under local control. That infrastructure will require hiring people to do good work. Then we will have abundant, clean, and dependable energy that won’t go up in price to power our economy.

The feed-in tariff for renewable energy bill changes the rules of our electricity system.  It gives everyone the right to be paid a fair price under a long-term contract for supplying our public grid with clean energy.

Right now that right is restricted to people (remember, corporations are people, too!) who can afford to lobby and negotiate special deals.  For the small-scale projects that most families (and organizations and even towns) can afford that doesn’t make economic sense.

Because dirty energy generators don’t pay the full costs for pollution or depletion, they can offer electricity for less money than it costs to generate with clean technology.  As a result, dirty electricity from fracked natural gas and even nuclear power from other states drive down the value of electricity.

Under a feed-in tariff you don’t have to compete on price with fossil fuel companies.  A fair price for your clean power is set by tariff.  That tariff rate is set so that you can earn a fair return on your investment.  That means that a bank can offer you a loan to install solar knowing that you’ll have the income to repay the loan.

Once we have a feed in tariff law in effect in Maine, you can hire a qualified installer to put solar panels on your roof, easily get a bank loan to finance the system, sign a long-term contract with your local power company, and then get paid a fair price for every kilowatt hour of clean power you supply.  Maine gets clean power, banks have a safe place to use their capital for a socially-beneficial purpose, and you get income for 20 years.

What this does is gives the little guy and gal a business opportunity. Every sunny roof could be a solar-powered money maker.

Feed-in tariffs have worked all over the world to boost rates of solar adoption. For example, in 2002 Germany got 0.03% of its electricity from solar.  In 2012, that number was 5.8%.  That’s a 200-fold increase in a decade.  Here in the US, we got approximately 0.01% of our electricity from solar in 2012, even though we have a much better solar resource than Germany.

Studies show feed-in tariffs are the most effective public policy to increase investment in renewable energy. A 2008 report by the Commission of the European Communities concludes, “The effectiveness of policies promoting wind energy, biogas and photovoltaics technologies has been highest in countries using feed-in tariffs as their main support scheme.”

A feed-in tariff bill for Maine was killed in committee in 2009. The testimony on file shows overwhelming public support for it. However, the chair of the committee, John Hinck, decided that it was not an appropriate policy for Maine. In a private email message to a proponent of LD 1085, former representative Hinck acknowledged that the feed-in tariff is “really a game-changer” but was afraid of Governor Paul LePage’s reaction to it. His main fear is that the policy makes people not generating renewable energy effectively paying for others to do it. This, he argues, makes the policy ripe for political backlash.

All sides agree that a feed-in tariff accelerates the deployment of renewable energy. All sides agree that this investment in infrastructure creates jobs. All sides agree that the policy gives people an economic incentive to participate in this infrastructure investment. The question is whether we want Maine to have a clean energy future or continue down the path of depending on “cheap” fossil fuel.

What do you think?

If you see the value of a clean energy future, please support a feed-in tariff for Maine.