PORTLAND, Maine — A proposal supported by utilities, Maine solar installers and environmental groups that would change how small-scale solar generators get paid has a narrow road to passage after a three-way divide in a committee vote Tuesday.
Democrats gave an amended version of the proposal majority support, and two Republican members voted for some changes to that bill. A third report, with support of three Republican members and unenrolled Rep. Larry Dunphy of Embden, would replace the bill.
Final drafts of each report were not available after voting Tuesday. The vote puts the bill in limbo as it heads to consideration by the House. It’s unclear whether the bill could, with suggested tweaks, retain support from its proponents and avoid or surmount a promised gubernatorial veto.
In general, the majority version of the bill would create a bidding process for solar projects of various sizes to offer up their power for 20-year contracts in auctions run by commission that regulates Maine utilities.
That would replace the current method of giving those small generators bill credits, equal to the retail price of power.
A minority report supported by Rep. Norm Higgins and Sen. David Woodsome tweaks the proposal, adding a price ceiling for residential generation bids that would allow regulators to call off an auction and shortens contract terms to 10 years.
It also would open bidding to all types of renewable generation sources and specify a certain amount of the contracts would be set aside for agricultural businesses.
That proposal takes aim at some of the reasons LePage’s office said it would veto the bill, with concerns for impacts on electricity costs and the length of contract terms.
The effort to revise the current system, called net metering, comes as regulators are due to review it. The policy allows for regulators to review its impact when solar generation capacity in either Central Maine Power Co. or Emera’s territory tops more than 1 percent of peak power consumption. CMP in January said it hit that mark and requested that the Maine Public Utilities Commission review net metering.
The majority report bill was the result of a months-long negotiation between utilities, Maine-based solar installers, environmental groups and the state’s consumer advocate, after lawmakers decided last session ordered the creation of such a task force to chart a course for the future of net metering.
Fortunat Mueller, a co-founder of solar installer ReVision Energy, wrote in an email that the committee vote was “incredibly disappointing,” after working out a bill he said marked the first time his company and the state’s major utilities were on the same side of legislation.
“Instead of considering that proposal on its substantial merits, so far the Legislature has just done the easy thing and retreated to their partisan corners,” Mueller wrote.
After final drafting, the bill heads to the House, where it originated, with three different reports.