WISCASSET, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- At the Morris Farm, a sprawling, non-profit educational farm on Route 27 in Wiscasset, the old is now literally supporting the new. A large bank of solar panels covers the south-facing roof of the barn. They are a major investment, but one the farm's board believes will save them as much as $100,000 over time.
Solar power has been steadily growing in Maine, but State utility regulators are proposing some big changes to the rules for solar power systems, and people in the solar business say those changes will hurt. The Maine Public Utilities Commission is proposing new rules for how solar panel owners are paid back for electricity they feed into the power grid. The current system called net-metering -- pays them with credits against the electric bill, and does so at the same rate as consumer electric bills. Part if the bill represents the actual cost of electricity, while the remainder covers the cost of transmission and delivery. The new proposal would change that, paying solar owners with credits only for the value of the electricity, and not the T&G portion. Solar business owners say that will mean much longer payback time for owners of new solar systems, and they worry it may discourage people from buying them.
The PUC Commissioners would not talk with NEWS CENTER about the proposal. A spokesman said they still have not made a final decision on those rules, so could not comment publicly yet. However, the PUC proposal does suggest that the cost of solar installations will continue to decline, reducing the impact if any drop in the value of credits solar owners receive.
There will be a public hearing on those rules next month, and solar businesses are expected to be out in force to try to change the policy. There was a long debate in the Legislature last spring over a new method of paying for solar power. The solar industry itself was divided on that idea, and that plan didn’t pass. Democratic leaders are expected to bring that proposal back again next year.
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