May 10, 2023

Maine coalition releases “Solar Vision” to create climate action and benefit those who need it most

AUGUSTA — Today, a broad coalition of climate and clean energy groups announced a collective vision for Maine to continue to invest in solar projects while benefiting all Mainers and directing millions of dollars of energy savings towards low- to moderate-income (LMI) customers. 

The coalition is calling on the Legislature to pass a bill that would bring existing sources of federal funding to Maine and implement positive changes to the Net Energy Billing (NEB) program based on the recommendations of a Distributed Generation 2.0 Stakeholder Working Group. The groups include: the Coalition for Community Solar Access, the Maine Renewable Energy Association, ReVision Energy, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Conservation Voters, A Climate to Thrive, and the Northeast Clean Energy Council. 

“Our coalition is focused on energy solutions that can move Maine forward today. Our state is at a moment when we can leverage new federal climate funding to build a renewable energy economy here in Maine,” said Jack Shapiro, Climate and Clean Energy Program Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Together, we can take action that will help us meet our climate and clean energy goals, reduce Maine’s exposure to outdated and expensive fossil fuels, and include more people in clean energy savings that have been left out in the past.”

Through the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), billions of dollars are available for clean energy and climate projects that benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities. The coalition estimates that if federal funds are used to support a traditional community solar and rooftop solar model, a $300 million grant could support a 20% bill discount for up to 115,000 LMI customers in Maine, which would result in $857 million in energy savings for customers at no additional cost to Maine ratepayers over the life of the projects.

Maine has appropriately ambitious climate and clean energy goals, but more must be done to ensure we achieve them. Solar in particular has been a bright spot, growing seven-fold in the past few years. Thanks to Governor Mills’ leadership and bipartisan climate laws passed by the Legislature, thousands of towns, businesses, and residents across the state have saved money on their electricity bills because of a rapid build-out of community and utility-scale solar energy. The developers of many of these projects also pay for important upgrades to the electrical grid that benefit all ratepayers. 

To continue this progress and stabilize energy costs for everyone, the coalition supports legislative action that will ensure the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) can access federal funding available from the IRA through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund Solar for All program, and utilize that funding for the next iteration of Maine’s solar programs. 

  • Maine could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars through the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to apply towards rooftop and community solar and storage that directly benefits low- to moderate-income customers.
  • Called the Solar for All competition, EPA has $7 billion in grants that can be used to expand existing community and rooftop solar and storage programs to make LMI-focused projects economical while minimizing costs to ratepayers. These funds can also be used to hire staff to address technical needs, such as grid planning and modernization, to make sure the program is successful.
  • These funds can be additive to federal tax credits that provide additional incentives for community and rooftop solar projects that provide economic benefits to LMI customers.

This federal funding provides Maine stakeholders the opportunity to reconvene and build upon the collaborative efforts and progress made by the GEO-convened DG 2.0 Stakeholder Working Group in late 2022. Clean energy proponents supported this effort to make common sense reforms to Maine’s solar programs to expand solar access for low income communities and address concerns from utilities, the Office of the Public Advocate, renewable energy developers, and other parties with many different perspectives. The GEO has presented the Working Group’s final report to the Legislature, which now has the ability to enact the mutually agreed upon program improvements. 

“The solar industry and environmental community are willing and eager to do the hard work to make sure Maine can continue to make progress towards its renewable energy goals while ensuring that solar programs are cost effective and equitable,” said Beth Ahearn of the Maine Conservation Voters. “This approach would provide a clear win for Maine.” 

In order to most quickly and affordably reach the state’s clean energy goals, all options for renewable energy development must be harnessed, including distributed solar. Maine has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to utilize available funding to keep the momentum building towards a vibrant, local, clean energy economy.

“We call on the legislature to pass a bill to bring federal funds to Maine and continue the work that’s been started on improving NEB so we deliver the most out of the promise of Maine-made solar, in particular to benefit Mainers who struggle the most with high fuel and energy prices,” said Fortunat Mueller, President and Co-Founder of ReVision Energy. “The reality is that achieving Maine’s decarbonization goals is a really big and challenging project but also a moral and economic imperative, and presents tremendous potential for our state.” 

The nation is doubling down on local, customer-driven solar as a tool to achieve energy equity and justice goals. Last year, the Biden administration set a goal of providing 5 million LMI Americans access to community solar by 2025. Vice President Kamala Harris recently announced the country’s largest single investment in domestically produced community solar ever, which will directly benefit Maine through several projects located in the state. 

The IRA funding is enormous, but competitive and time-limited, and other states are well on their way to taking advantage of these funds. States like New York, California, and Illinois are expanding community solar access, and demonstrating the positive impacts of building a portfolio of clean energy resources with direct customer benefits.

“This is not the time for the state to turn away from programs that can deploy clean energy quickly,” said Jeremy Payne on behalf of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “Instead, the state should prioritize pursuing available federal funds and reforms to the NEB program so we can continue to make progress toward Maine’s renewable energy goals and develop a clean energy grid that is accessible, affordable, and equitable for all Mainers.”