In 2017, Maine’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted solar policy changes that took a toll on green energy progress for the state. Utilities began charging Mainers who installed solar on their property a fee for the energy generated by their arrays. Instead of moving forward, like most of New England, the state was moving backwards just as renewable technology was becoming more accessible and affordable.
In 2019, Maine reversed course with a progressive stride forward in its solar policy. The Pine Tree State passed new legislation in 2019 to encourage the development of solar energy across the state with programs that broaden opportunities for both residential and non-residential individuals to tap into the benefits of rooftop solar and “shared solar”, also referred to as community solar.
The Act To Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources in Maine (The Act) is a game-changer for solar development in the state. It modernizes net metering by eliminating a 10-meter cap on community solar projects across most of the state, increasing allowable net metering project size from 660 kW to under 5 MW, and creating a net metering program specifically for commercial and institutional customers. The Act also directs the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to establish two competitive procurements by which the state will procure 375 MW of distributed generation by July 2024, through Maine’s electric utilities enter into long term contracts for large renewable energy projects.
Project participation in solar can either be through the newly established Distributed Generation (DG) procurements or through Net Energy Billing (NEB) outside of the procurements.
Net Energy Billing (NEB)
The NEB program allows customers to offset their electricity bills using the energy generated from renewable energy projects, like community solar farms. Residential, commercial and industrial customers can own their own projects or share in a project with other participants. Under NEB, there are two programs:
- NEB kWh Credit Program – available to all electric utility customers. The NEB kWh program provides kWh credits on participating customers’ electricity bills. Individuals may choose to have their own projects installed on their property, like rooftop solar, or participate in a nearby community solar project alongside other participants.
- NEB Tariff Rate Program – available to non-residential customers. The NEB Tariff Rate Program provides dollar credits on participating customers’ electricity bills. These rates are determined annually by the PUC. Individuals may choose to have their own projects installed or share in a project with other commercial or industrial customers.
Distributed Generation (DG)
The Act calls for the procurement of a total of 375 MW of distributed generation resources by July 2024, through 5 separate procurement blocks. For projects awarded under the procurement, Maine’s electric utilities enter into 20-year contracts with projects awarded under the procurement, at the contract rate established for that particular block. There are competitive procurement requirements for both Shared DG and Commercial and Institutional projects.
- Shared DG Projects – available to all electric utility customer classes. The PUC will obtain 250 MW of shared DG projects through a series of procurements. Individuals receive dollar credits on their electricity bills through participation in community shared solar projects. DG projects have specific subscription requirements for municipal, low-and-moderate income and small subscriber offtake. There is no cap on the number of subscribers that can enroll in a given shared DG project.
- Commercial and Institutional Projects – available to non-residential customer classes. This project type is limited to one C&I entity per project. PUC will obtain 125 MW of Commercial and Institutional DG projects through a series of procurements.
By expanding access to and improving net energy billing and initiating competitive procurements for both shared DG and C&I projects, community solar will be more accessible to utility customers of Central Maine Power Company (CMP) and Versant. A subscription to a Nexamp community solar farm allows Mainers to receive credits on their bill for the energy produced by their share of the project, saving them up to 15% on electricity costs (note: excludes minimum delivery service charge).
To learn more, watch Nexamp’s guide to community solar:
By enhancing economic development opportunities, job creation and bringing energy savings for everyone, Maine is taking important steps towards advancing its clean energy future.