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Solar Advocates: Maine Lagging Nation in Tapping Sun Power

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine - Solar energy expansion in Maine continues to lag behind the rest of the country, despite a 25 percent increase in sales, and a decline in the cost of installation.

Solar power advocates in Maine cite poor policy for the problem, and are calling for changes in Maine state law that will further encourage homeowners and businesses to invest in solar energy.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar is producing 36 percent more power in the U.S. than it did a year ago. Even small states, such as Vermont, are taking advantage of tax incentives designed to spur solar growth.

But Maine, says Dylan Voorhees, is not among them. "Maine is falling behind the surge in solar, compared to our neighbors, and losing out on many of the opportunities to make solar accessible to more Mainers," Vorhees said at a press conference Monday.

Vorhees, Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says one of those opportunities was lost earlier this year when the state Legislature failed to override Gov. Paul LePage's veto of a bill that would have provided tax credits for low-to-moderate income Mainers interested in installing solar panels.

At the press conference in South Portland, Steve Clemmer, director of energy research for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that, had the measure passed, Maine would have complemented federal efforts that are driving solar expansion nationally, and lowered the upfront cost of solar installations by as much as 30 percent.

"The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed clean power plan also provides an important long-term opportunity for solar and other renewable energy sources to affordably reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants," Clemmer said.

The press conference was held at the site of a South Portland motel which has just gone solar.  Suresh Gali recently installed more than 400 solar panels on the roof of the Day's Inn near the Maine Mall. Since April, he estimates that the system has produced more than 120,000 kilowatts - a result that has erased any initial concerns he had about the project.

"In the beginning, we were really reluctant to install this solar project," Gali said. 'We did the pilot project at my home, and that has been really good. So then we started with the big scale and that worked out pretty good."

Solar advocates say they hope to build bipartisan support in the upcoming legislative session for new initiatives aimed at enabling more Mainers to tap the power of the sun.