The eight years Maine spent with a staunch opponent to solar power in the governor’s office has been called a wasted opportunity — and it certainly was.
But it also showed that you can’t keep a good idea down. Despite the opposition of Gov. Paul LePage and the institution of bad policies, individuals, businesses and local governments moved forward with solar projects because they make economic and environmental sense.
Now with a friendly face in the Blaine House, the solar industry is ready to grow. The Legislature can help.
Lawmakers already passed a bill that among other things restored net-metering, the process by which consumers are credited for the energy they produce through their own solar panels. In doing so, they brought some welcome certainty to the industry — but it was only a start.
Even under the poor circumstances of the last few years, the solar industry showed us what is needed. Communities of all kinds want to come together to take advantage of the rapidly dropping price of solar generation, and Maine needs to put in place policies that will make that easier.
L.D. 1711 contains a number of those polices. From Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, the bill lifts barriers to distributed generation of solar power – that is, power produced right next to where it is used.
The bill encourages the development of all kinds of distributed solar generation, large and small. It would help businesses that want to power their own operations, and municipalities that want to provide clean energy to residents and local businesses. It further reduces barriers to solar energy by mandating solar farms serve low- and middle-income residents.
Maine has seen these sort of projects pop up in recent years. Colby College has a solar array of 5,300 panels contributing 16 percent of campus power. Madison Electric Works built a 26,000-panel array that covers 20 percent of their power needs. Cianbro Corp. in Pittsfield has a 41,000-panel array.
Many more projects wait in the wings, and are ready to go once the various barriers are removed. These projects, and others that follow them, will allow Maine to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. They will help keep more of Maine’s energy dollars here in the state. And they will promote an industry that is growing in leaps and bounds.
There are about 600 solar power-related jobs in Maine, an increase from a few years ago but still lagging far behind most of the rest of the country. Massachusetts, with some of the best solar policy in the country, has more than 10,000 jobs in the industry.
Maine was once right next to Massachusetts on this issue, but now we’ve fallen behind. The Legislature shouldn’t let the session end without playing catch-up.