April 28, 2014

Solar Development Bill Becomes Law

Coastal Enterprises Inc., one of Maine's leading nonprofit financial firms, said a solar energy development bill passed into law on Thursday will help boost the state's business growth.

The law, "An Act to Support Solar Energy Development in Maine," was enacted without Gov. Paul LePage's signature after passing the Senate unanimously and the House with a 103-39 vote. The act directs the Maine Public Utilities Commission to monitor and study the development and value of distributed solar energy generation on ratepayers.

CEI, with offices in Portland and Wiscasset, offered strong testimony in favor of the bill in January, noting that it has lent over $4 million to energy efficient and renewable energy businesses in Maine over the last two years.

Steve Cole, CEI's energy and environment officer, who provided the testimony, said the law will help Maine create momentum for solar energy adoption, which will, in turn, diversify Maine's energy portfolio, reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and diminish its carbon footprint.

"Our lending and investment strategy is to lend to a wide variety of companies and wide variety of renewable technologies," he told Mainebiz, "because we think that's an important public policy strategy. … We think diversifying Maine's energy portfolio is an important strategy."

Cole said the law can help boost business growth in Maine, noting that there are solar installation companies in every region. "They're providing well-paying skilled jobs," he says. "To build that kind of employment base is really valuable."

While the law marks progress for Maine's renewable energy sector, proponents are still grappling with a rate proposal from Central Maine Power Co. that would add an extra charge to customers on the grid who use on-site power generation, including solar panels.

Some organizations opposing the plan, including the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, the Maine Independent Colleges Association and GridSolar, have said it could make renewable energy adoption unfeasible in Maine.

But CMP has argued that the rate proposal will help ensure steady returns for its shareholders and that it will fairly distribute the costs of maintaining its distribution network while overall operating costs increase.

Cole said though CEI has not taken an official stance on the issue, he said his firm is not in favor of CMP's rate proposal, echoing concerns by other groups that oppose it.

"While we think it's important to maintain viability of electrical grid," he said, "it seems ludicrous to us to penalize a growing renewable energy sector."

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