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December 14, 2017

Maine’s highest court weighs challenge to PUC rule on residential solar incentives

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge by clean energy advocates of state regulators’ efforts to reduce and eventually phase out incentives for residential solar power.

Maine's Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge by clean energy advocates of state regulators' efforts to reduce and eventually phase out incentives for residential solar power.

Maine Public reported that Tony Buxton, an attorney for some of the state's largest industrial energy consumers, told the court his clients — which include paper mills that generate much of their own power onsite — have a stake in preventing new rules that would allow electric utilities to value transmission charges to solar generators based in part on how much energy they create and use entirely onsite.

"This is like our grocers charging us for vegetables we grow in our gardens," he said.

Maine Public reported that Mitchell Tannenbaum, a lawyer at the state Public Utilities Commission, which imposed the new rule, said the rollback's effect is not to charge extra for electricity generated on-site, but to reduce credits solar generators get when they put excess energy back on the grid.

Several justices questioned whether state regulators need to do a more rigorous analysis of the costs and benefits of keeping solar generators hooked up to the grid, and more closely tie utility fees to that analysis.

Earlier this month, the PUC delayed implementation of the rollback to April 2018. The rule — which was to have grandfathered existing solar power customers for 15 years under the current incentives but gradually reduced the credit for solar energy that could be used to offset the transmission and distribution portion of the electric bill — originally was to impact anyone who installed solar panels after Jan. 1, 2018.

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