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A bill would modify the 'net energy billing' solar program

Dave Kolpack
Associated Press/via Bangor Daily News

A program designed to promote solar power has been drawing fire from critics who say it's too expensive. Lawmakers are now considering a bill to modify the net energy billing program.

The program has enabled the development of dozens of solar projects in Maine, and many more are in the queue. But critics like Maine Public Advocate Bill Harwood say the program could eventually cost Maine ratepayers a minimum of $220 million annually over the next 20 years. Solar advocates say the costs are far less.

Senator Rick Lawrence, a Democrat from Eliot, is the sponsor of the bill that would require the Public Utilities Commission to better define the cost of program, and report it each year to the legislature.

"Our solution is going to be to correctly define what are the costs and what are the benefits and find a variety of solutions to find ways to transform our current net energy billing programs so that they cost ratepayers the least amount of money," Lawrence told a committee at a hearing on Wednesday.

Lawrence's bill drew support from a broad coalition of solar industry and environmental groups at the hearing.

But CMP and Versant oppose the bill, which could shift some of the costs onto their shoulders. And Tony Buxton, an attorney representing the Industrial Energy and Consumer Group, says the bill will do nothing for ratepayers. He also objected to the committee rushing it through in the waning days of the session.

Lawmakers are also considering another bill that would eliminate the net energy billing program altogether.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.