Energy Policy

Solar is breaking the bank for Maine ratepayers

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Once again, it seems that the debate on the value of harnessing sunshine via innovative lobbying techniques and crafty policy to save the planet is abundant in the halls of Augusta. The issue has certainly loaded up my email inbox. What I did notice about that mail was the clear majority came from the same server. My assumption is it originated from one of those special interest groups who are paid to scare me into voting in their favor on an issue they may profit from.

In all honesty, I really wanted to help and deliver solar policy that allowed the industry to grow in Maine on its own merit and real market value, and did not add any new costs to the ratepayers of Maine. I wrote the minority report for LD 1504 which accomplished that, but it never saw the light of day, no pun intended.

The majority report as amended does cost ratepayers a lot of money, therefore I am compelled to reject it and fight another solar battle in hope that someday, these battles will end the war waged on the electric ratepayer’s wallet.

Policy that benefits one individual at the expense of the many, in my book, is legalized plunder, and not the prudent way to create responsible and sustainable energy policy.

To date, the electric ratepayers of the state of Maine are saddled with the inflated costs of net energy billing (NEB) amounting to about $28 million, and the clear majority will never see a positive rate of return on their forced investment. The new Public Utilities Commission (PUC) rule, contrary to rhetoric being touted by the industries that stand to profit if this rule is diminished, is saving the electric ratepayers at least $300,000, and up to $1.1 million. This, to me, is pointing the needle in the right direction.

The way LD 1504 is written will cost electric ratepayers a base amount of about $97 million dollars over the next 15 years.  The majority of that will go to non-dispatchable and intermittent solar power, which must always have back up sources of fossil fuels, coal, nuclear or natural gas, and will do absolutely nothing in reducing our carbon emissions.

The way this bill is written is nonsensical, as net energy is defined as the difference between the kWhs delivered to the customer and the kWhs exported by the customer in the same billing cycle. LD 1504 would result in NEB customers having their usage stepped down, not just their generation, meaning an NEB customer who enrolls in 2019 and never generates a kWh would pay only 80 percent for transmission and distribution of what they have consumed. In other words, more freebies.

There are also high estimates associated with this craftily written bill, a policy being lobbied for heavily by those who will profit handsomely from the law. I often refer to that lobby as the “suits,” or “fourth branch of government”.

The estimates, not mentioned by the suits, are $153 million depending on the saturation that occurs by creating a false market via government intervention. These estimates do not include the already existing taxpayer subsidy of a 30-plus percent federal tax credit. Solar receives the highest taxpayer funded subsidies, a minimum of 300 percent more than oil or natural gas. It is no wonder Warren Buffet is digging into this gravy train of tax havens.

I went to Augusta to ensure the taxpayers and ratepayers have a seat at the table when choices are made to spend other people’s money, and I always follow the money. In this case, all the money will come straight out of the pockets of all non-solar customers and unsuspecting ratepayers to support the fortunate few who can afford to install solar.

When something sounds too good to be true, generally it is. The final version of this bill came to the House and Senate floors at the last minute with no review or vetting. Due to its title and heavy lobby, it passed. This should speak volumes.

About Beth O'Connor

Representative O'Connor represents House District 5 including the towns of Berwick and North Berwick (part). She can be reached at (207) 289-9047.

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