There’s now more to love about Maine beyond its lobster rolls and lighthouses.

After a decade of inaction on clean energy and climate issues, in June 2019 a suite of bills aimed at tackling the climate crisis head on and spurring deployment of clean energy resources were signed into law by Governor Mills. Two of these bills are especially notable.

Maine’s 4-Year Climate Action Plan

The first, “An Act To Establish the Maine Climate Change Council To Assist Maine To Mitigate, Prepare for and Adapt to Climate Change” creates the Maine Climate Council. Comprised of scientists, industry leaders, local and state officials, and engaged citizens, the council is charged with developing a four-year Climate Action Plan to help the state meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% by 2050.uThis past December, the Council released “Maine Won’t Wait: Maine’s 4-Year Plan for Climate Action,” which lays out eight strategies. The Plan acknowledges the thread that runs from environmental wellbeing to climate change to energy production.

Maine has always boasted robust and healthy ecosystems, rich farmlands and fisheries, national parks and open spaces. Now, Maine leaders are recognizing the importance of curbing climate change – and the clean energy resources needed to do that – to ensure that the natural and working lands and waters are sustained for future generations.

The Plan also underscores the potential for clean energy deployment to create the jobs and opportunities needed to help Maine recover from the current pandemic and the toll it has taken on the state’s economy. As stated in the Plan, “Maine can’t wait to make the most of this extraordinary moment in time. This plan against climate change comes in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic which has caused significant economic and social turmoil in Maine, across the country, and around the globe. It might be easier to put off climate action until calmer times. But Maine can’t wait. Maine shouldn’t wait. And Maine won’t wait.”

The Plan establishes a goal of doubling the number of clean energy and energy efficiency jobs in the state by 2030, to 30,000. It finds that clean energy jobs represent a better opportunity for Maine workers, with median U.S. hourly wages for clean energy jobs about 25% higher than median wage. Lastly, the plan underscores that the clean energy economy can help attract younger workers both in and out of state to help grow the workforce as older workers retire.

Net-Energy Billing (NEB) Program

The other landmark bill passed in 2019, An Act to Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources in Maine, expanded access to net metering – previously only available to residential customers – to commercial and institutional customers. The program allows these customers to offset their monthly electricity bills using the energy generated from clean energy projects, either onsite or through participation in a community shared solar farm.

The legislation also increased the allowable NEB program project size to just under five megawatts, making the program more attractive to commercial and community solar developers. As a result, over the past year and a half the Pine Tree State has been a boon for DG solar development, attracting investment in and revenue for local communities, savings for customers, and jobs for local Mainers.

NEB Review and the Future of the Program

The legislation that expanded the NEB program requires that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) evaluate the effectiveness of the program once program capacity reaches a certain percentage of each investor-owned utilities’ total energy load. Versant and Central Maine Power, the state’s two major utilities, hit that threshold in the spring and fall, respectively, of 2020. The PUC’s analysis of the NEB program, released in November, focused heavily on NEB costs, with little attention paid to the many benefits the program affords state electric ratepayers. The Maine legislature has indicated it plans to review the PUC’s NEB report and make recommendations to improve the program.

Maine has made tremendous progress towards meeting its ambitious climate goals. The NEB program is one of the key reasons why and preserving NEB in the years to come is a climate imperative. The program has proven to be a critical mechanism to facilitate the growth of distributed generation across the state, support a cleaner electric grid, and ensure more equitable access to the benefits of clean energy for all Mainers. Most importantly, the program aligns with the strategies of the Climate Action Plan, which will ensure the state is able to deliver on the promise of its climate commitments.