The Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) this week approved its controversial new rules for residential net energy billing (NEB), which would reduce the compensation solar power producers receive for the energy they produce. 

“The Commission received many useful comments over the last several months regarding this Rule and all the comments were reviewed and analyzed carefully,” said Commission Chairman Mark Vannoy in a statement.

Under NEB rules, homeowners and businesses with grid-tied solar arrays receive credits for the excess energy they send to the grid. The unused credits go into a “bank” to be used to purchase additional power from the grid for up to a year. However, under MPUC’s new rules, the current rates for all existing NEB customers and new customer installations occurring before January 1, 2018, would be grandfathered for 15 years. However, next year, new solar customers would see their rates incrementally decreased over the following 15 years. According to the PUC, the new rule “should not change the length of time” it takes to recoup an investment in solar and the estimated payback for new installations will be similar to what it has been in the past. The rules only affect residential solar users and do not impact large-scale NEB projects or community solar farms. 

In an unsual twist, both Gov. LePage, Democratic leaders and environmentalists all panned the new NEB rules. In a statement, LePage complained that “above market” solarrates are not being phased out fast enough. 

“Net energy billing customers should be compensated for the electricity they generate at fair market rates,” said LePage. “Other ratepayers should not be subsidizing those installations to make solar viable.”

Dylan Voorhees, the clean energy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the rules will do even more damage to Maine’s growing renewable energy industry. “Unless the Legislature does anything to change it ... new people installing solar will begin to get less and less of a credit on the bill for the power that they’re generating,” said Voorhees. “And that’s pretty bad news for our solar markets as we are already in last place in New England and in the Northeast in terms of per capita solar.” 

The Legislature will soon consider a number of bills aimed at restoring more favorable rates for solar.