- Maine Gov. Janet Mills, D, signed an executive order last Thursday ending the moratorium on wind turbine permits imposed one year ago by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
- In another advance for clean energy, the state legislative committee last week approved a bill that would repeal a gross metering tax that renewable energy advocates deemed as anti-solar.
- As part of Mills’ stated support for clean energy and a competitive landscape for renewables deployment, the governor has expressed interest in increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).
Energy developments last week in Maine illustrate new momentum for renewables and climate action in states where Democrats won gubernatorial elections last November.
The executive order “is one tool in the toolbox the state can use to reduce carbon pollution, create new jobs, and protect our environment,” Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), told Utility Dive via email. “Passage of the bill to repeal the anti-solar gross metering tax, which was just voted out of legislative committee … would be another positive step forward in regaining our energy independence by moving forward with home-grown clean energy projects.”
Under a gross metering policy established almost two years ago, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) allowed utilities to charge rooftop solar owners for having a panel connected to the grid, even if the electricity was not put back onto the grid. The gross metering rule adopted to replace net metering was suspended by the PUC in December for large and medium electricity users, following a petition citing excessive costs to implement the policy across the entire customer rate base.
The state legislature, led by a new Democratic majority, is considering LD 91, a bill to eliminate gross metering and reestablish pre-2017 net metering policies while new ones are crafted, impacting the homes and small businesses that are still affected by gross metering.
The net metering bill could be passed in the next two weeks, state Rep. Seth Berry told Energy News Network.
Additional opportunities exist for the new administration to change the state’s energy agenda in support of renewables, such as appointing a more favorable energy director and a new PUC chair and commissioner. PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy’s term ends at the end of March.
Other key energy bills currently in the legislature would boost solar deployment, create a climate action plan and fund municipal renewable energy projects through a $10 million bond, according to Maine’s environmental priorities coalition.
LePage’s executive order, issued in January, 2018, established a moratorium on wind turbine permits and created the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission, meant to conduct reviews of the impact of wind farms on the state’s economy and propose policies regarding future deployment.
Mills’ executive order dissolved the commission while reinstating the legal authority of state agencies to issue permits and to work with stakeholders to determine the future deployment of wind projects.
“This Executive Order will allow our state to conduct a transparent vetting of all wind projects, onshore and offshore, to ensure they respect Maine communities and our environment while helping to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Mills said in a Feb. 15 statement.
“We are excited that Governor Mills has seen how foolish that Order was and the negative message it sent about companies looking to invest and create jobs in Maine. This is an encouraging sign that Maine is indeed open for clean energy business,” Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, told Utility Dive via email.
Even a short moratorium could still have longer term impacts, “because it sends market signals” of unreliability and uncertainty, Todd Foley, senior vice president of policy and government affairs for the American Council on Renewable Energy, told Utility Dive in July.
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