Solar Industry Dealt Another Blow In The Courtroom


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Renewable energy advocates lost an attempt to strike down a program in Maine that reduces the amount of subsidies given to solar panel owners, the latest move in an ongoing battle between the solar lobby and state regulators.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday handed the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other solar proponents a loss when it dismissed their attempt to throw out certain provisions in the state’s new net metering system.

Renewable energy advocates have fought against Maine’s new system that gradually reduces the credit panel owners are given for the power they produce at home, decreasing the incentive for homeowners to purchase solar panels.

Most state governments have established some form of net metering — a system where homeowners are credited for the power their solar panels produce and send back to the grid. Solar companies are very supportive of the policy, as it creates an incentive for people to purchase expensive panel installation, promising them savings on electricity bills in the long run.

However, net metering has also been controversial as it essentially shifts costs onto non-panel owners.

Utilities typically must credit panel owners for their power, not at the wholesale rate, but at the more expensive retail rate. These costs are covered by way of more expensive energy bills for all ratepayers. A number of states have begun roll back their solar subsidies, with Maine included. (RELATED: Every State In New England Is Reconsidering Their Subsidies To Solar Power)

Outgoing Republican Gov. Pau LePage has argued that these subsidies have become less necessary as the costs for solar installation continues to drop. The Maine Public Utilities Commission established a new net metering policy earlier this year that gradually reduces the amount of credit panel owners are given.

However, homeowners who had already purchased panels were grandfathered in to the old system for another 15 years.

Renewable energy advocates have fought against the rule change in the state legislature, where LePage has already vetoed three different bills that would have reformed his new net metering policy.

Unable to regain their subsidies at the legislative level, the solar lobby has turned to the courts.

The Conservation Law Foundation complained to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court last year, challenging a provision that asses a transmission charge on panel owners for the electricity they generate and use at their house. This challenge, however, was ultimately thrown out after the court ruled that such an issue needs to be settled at a lower court.

“We obviously are disappointed,” Sean Mahoney, leader of the Conservation Law Foundation in Maine, said to the Portland Press Herald. “The decision doesn’t address the underlying problems with the [Public Utilities Commission] rule.”

The Conservation Law Foundation has vowed to continue fighting.

“[W]e could see ourselves back at the Law Court in a year with the same issue,” Mahoney explained. “And in that time, people will have both potentially paid significant dollars to install these second meters and/or begun to lose the benefits of the net energy billing process.”

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