OPA disseminating CMP, Versant data without independent verification

AUGUSTA — The Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA), an industry group representing renewable energy providers operating and developing community solar energy projects in Maine, today called on Maine’s Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) to end its taxpayer funded campaign of false information targeting the community solar industry.

“Maine’s Public Advocate is supposed to be looking out for Maine consumers,” said Kate Daniel, Northeast Regional Director of CCSA. “But right now OPA seems more focused on helping utilities justify unnecessary rate increases than ensuring Maine’s consumers have access to clean, affordable renewable energy.”

OPA last week released an overview of Maine’s Net Energy Billing program (NEB) in their “Monthly Highlights” newsletter that contained a series of inaccurate and dubious claims being propagated by Maine utilities in an effort to cast a negative light on the program. The NEB program is the backbone of Maine’s community solar industry, and gives all Mainers access to clean, affordable renewable power regardless of income.

The OPA document uses inflated and unsubstantiated data about the NEB program’s cost, falsely claiming that “the cost is immense,” and repeating groundless and fictional claims about what it will cost Maine ratepayers. 

The OPA cites documents created by CMP and Versant to justify their request to raise rates for Maine energy consumers. The utilities’ request makes unreasonable assumptions about both the amount of energy that will be generated by community solar projects and their timeframe for development, assumptions that more than double the true cost. These exaggerated cost figures not only undermine the NEB program as a whole, but they would serve to double the amount of money utilities would be able to recover from Maine ratepayers.

Maine’s utilities have a history of misstating cost data to discourage solar development, as evidenced by CMP’s attempt to levy tens of millions of dollars in exaggerated upgrade costs to solar developers in 2021. After public outrage, CMP backed down from their overblown estimates, admitting the costs were in error.  

“The people of Maine deserve the truth about the critical decisions our public officials are making,” continued Daniel. “Unfortunately, the OPA has chosen to paint an incorrect picture of the NEB program by cherry-picking exaggerated utility claims and ignoring real data that show how beneficial this program is to Maine ratepayers.”

The figures OPA, CMP, and Versant have put forward about the NEB program omit the real, quantified electric system benefits, as well as the economic impact and environmental impact of community solar development. In an interview with the Bangor Daily News, Maine Renewable Energy Association (MREA) Executive Director Jeremy Payne called OPA’s cost estimates “an exaggeration,” noting that OPA “ignores the value that these projects provide to the grid and ultimately to all consumers.”

For example:

  • The Governor’s Distributed Generation Stakeholder Group released a study in early 2023 showing that distributed solar development yields an overall net benefit to Maine. The study group also concluded that, under a new program structure that pairs solar with energy storage, benefits would increase to $2.77 for every dollar invested.
  • The non-partisan Daymark study conducted in 2021 showed the program supports over 700 full-time Maine jobs, bringing nearly $800 million in economic activity to our state, and eliminating 600,000 tons of carbon emissions each year. 
  • A 2022 Maine Renewable Energy Association (MREA) study estimates that capital investments in non-residential solar developments will create or support 5,930 job years between 2023 and 2027.

In addition, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) is currently reviewing the utilities’ request to cover the costs of the NEB program, a review which has not been completed and from which no decision has yet been made available. Instead of waiting for this process to conclude, or more importantly, scrutinizing the utilities’ math and working to reduce the payment asked of ratepayers, the OPA has initiated an aggressive ratepayer-funded advocacy effort to eliminate the NEB program using inaccurate utility-authored data. Rather than provide ratepayers with accurate and unbiased information, OPA has spread utility talking points through the press and through official government channels. Public records also show OPA has used ratepayer funds to hire an outside Public Relations firm.

The Governor’s Distributed Generation Stakeholder Group has been working to develop a “successor program” to Maine’s current NEB framework that integrates energy storage and would make the program even more cost-effective for Maine consumers. The Inflation Reduction Act allocated billions of dollars in state incentives for renewable programs like this, and the industry is strongly urging Maine to take advantage of these funds to create an even more beneficial community solar framework. 

“Community solar is working for Maine, and the work we are doing together with the DG stakeholder group will continue to provide benefits. It is absolutely imperative that OPA ends this all-out campaign against community solar, gets back to the facts, and refocuses on finding solutions that work for all of Maine’s energy consumers, not just Maine’s utilities,” concluded Daniel.