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Maine Regulators Partially Undo Controversial Solar Metering Rule

Abukar Adan
Maine Public
South Portland's solar array, the largest municipal solar installation in Maine, went online in October of 2017.

State regulators are partially unwinding what they had hoped was a solution to inequities in the way solar power users are compensated for excess electricity they supply to the grid. Last year, after several legislative attempts to reform the state's solar rules were stymied by Gov. Paul LePage, the Public Utilities Commission imposed a new way to measure the value of solar power called "gross metering."

It required all electricity consumers to pay for extra metering equipment at new solar projects. Those meters were used to measure the solar panels' entire output – and then to charge a fee — even on power that was used on site and not sent to the grid.

Commissioners believed that would lower costs that are passed along to ratepayes when a solar project is added to the system.

Instead, in the first year at least, the cost of the new equipment for larger-scale solar generation plants far outweighed savings to consumers. That's according to Pittsfield-based InSource Renewables, which led a petition calling for an exemption for larger generation facilities.

And the three-member Commission, including Randall Davis, agreed. "There is very little benefit, if any, received from the higher-than-projected cost of additional meters to measure nettable energy," Davis said.

The commission exempted medium and large scale solar installations from the gross metering rule. New residential and small business solar projects are, for now, still subject to it. But it's expected that next year Gov.-elect Janet Mills and the new Legislature will attempt a complete overhaul of the state's solar rules. 

Originally published Dec. 12, 2018 at 5:15 p.m. ET.

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.