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Legislative Committee Proposes Temporary Moratorium On Community Solar Projects

Dave Kolpack
Associated Press/via Bangor Daily News
This July 26, 2019, file photo shows an array of solar panels glisten in the sun outside Cannon Ball, N.D., located on the north side of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Stakeholders in the state’s solar power sector are uniting behind a proposal to temporarily bar new “community solar” projects from getting in line for ratepayer-sponsored credits that are provided under the so-called “net energy billing” program.

State Rep. Seth Berry, co-chair of the Legislature’s utilities committee, is proposing the temporary moratorium to last through June. That’s to give lawmakers and regulators time to absorb the lessons of a solar development boom that followed 2019 legislation that created an array of new incentives.

“Here’s the good news. We threw the door wide open to solar two years ago and since then Maine has seen hundreds of new jobs created at a time when we desperately needed those jobs,” he says.

But last year, state regulators reported that if all the proposed midsize solar power projects were brought online, the incentives could add tens of millions of dollars a year to electricity bills in Maine. Solar advocates condemned the report as flawed, and commissioned their own reports highlighting the benefits solar power brings to Maine, from jobs and grid security to combating climate change.

Berry’s moratorium would exempt smaller-scale, residential rooftop arrays, and would grandfather larger projects that applied for the solar credits before January. At Tuesday’s hearing, advocates and opponents of the incentives supported the moratorium to allow for further study.

The committee could vote out the bill by next month. But that will only postpone a new phase of the battle over renewable energy and how it should be paid for.

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.