A new “standby” fee proposed by Central Maine Power Co. would penalize Maine colleges and universities — including the 10 member institutions of the Maine Independent Colleges Association — and effectively create a significant disincentive for our pursuit of the economic, environmental and educational benefits associated with onsite generation of renewable energy.

Our institutions are large consumers of electricity, and we recognize the need for CMP to cover the infrastructure costs associated with the delivery of that electricity. We also acknowledge the value of having electricity from CMP on standby when alternative onsite sources of power are unavailable. However, the fees associated with this service should not be permitted to stall or eliminate advances that can lower our costs and engage our academic communities in valuable work on alternative and renewable sources of energy.

Utility costs are among the most significant expenses associated with operating a college campus, particularly in Maine. With expanded buildings and new infrastructure, these costs are not expected to decrease any time in the short or long term. That’s why our institutions have invested heavily, or are considering investments, in innovative new technologies that permit us to generate a portion of our own power onsite. But reduced costs for electricity are only part of our motivation. As educational institutions, we see meaningful benefits associated with making these facilities available to faculty and students who are focused on sustainable power sources and on the development of alternative fuels for our nation’s future.

By way of example, a proposed solar project at Bowdoin College is anticipated to produce about 8 percent of the college’s electricity, reduce carbon emissions by more than 33 million pounds over 20 years and provide students and faculty with an important academic opportunity to learn about the efficiency of solar power and to study other environmental, policy and economic questions associated with this technology. Overall, Bowdoin estimates that it will pay in excess of $2.3 million more for electricity over the first 20 years of operating its solar project if CMP’s proposed rate increase is approved. CMP’s standby fee proposal would levy a tax on this project of more than $115,000 every year.

A solar installation at Thomas College would face increased costs of more than $10,000 per year if CMP’s standby fee is approved. Existing facilities at other colleges would also face higher costs, including a solar photovoltaic installation at Unity College and a combined heat and power facility at Colby College.

These are excessive additional expenses that will have a chilling effect at other Maine colleges and universities contemplating similar energy advances. Our institutions and our students and their families cannot afford these added costs, and the state should not be forced to turn away from the essential environmental, economic and educational progress made possible by alternative energy initiatives.

We urge the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reject CMP’s proposed standby fee and to work with the company and our institutions to equitably compensate CMP for its costs while also encouraging innovation, sustainability and education in Maine.

Robert Clark is the president of Husson University and also serves as president of the Maine Independent College Association. This OpEd was also signed by the presidents of the other nine member institutions: Bates College, Bowdoin College, Colby College, College of the Atlantic, the Maine College of Art, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, Thomas College, Unity College and the University of New England.