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Groups Urge State to Reconsider New Solar Rules

A broad coalition of solar power businesses, environmental advocates and industrial energy users want state regulators to reconsider new rules for solar power adopted earlier this year. But the move may just be a prelude to litigation — or legislative action.

In January Maine’s Public Utilities Commission ordered a 15-year ramp-down of credits rooftop solar users can earn when they put excess electricity on the power grid, often called “net metering.”

Emily Green, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, says the new policy will make it harder to recoup the big upfront investment the technology requires, and runs afoul of existing law that puts a premium on increasing solar build-out in the state. She also says it will end up costing all energy considers more over time.

“Our assessment is that the commission’s approach will convert a beneficial clean energy program, one that is designed to ensure much-needed growth in Maine’s solar market, to one that actually harms Maine consumers and businesses,” she says.

Gov. Paul LePage has also pilloried the regulators’ decision, saying it will take too long to end a subsidy all energy consumers pay to help bring solar power to the grid.

But even the advocates say they do not believe the regulators will reverse course, and that the petition for reconsideration is a necessary step before filing a lawsuit. In the Legislature, meanwhile, several bills that would restore a net metering system are pending.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.