Dillon Fitts of Insource Renewables gets some of the solar panels ready as they were getting installed on Thane Fremouw and Clarissa Henry’s home in Orono in this Aug. 22, 2017, file photo. Credit: Gabor Degre

A coalition fighting new state rules that reduce solar power incentives has filed a new lawsuit against Maine’s Public Utilities Commission, arguing that regulators violated state law by approving rules that will raise their costs of connecting to the grid.

The Conservation Law Foundation and three other plaintiffs on Thursday filed their lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court, continuing a legal battle against a new system for tracking generation and power consumption by small residential and commercial customers with on-site generators.

Solar panels are the most common type of small on-site generation in Maine, allowing customers to get credits on their energy bill for power they generate and send back to the grid, in a system called net metering.

The new rules back down those incentives over a period of years.

[Homeowners with solar panels affect your power bill. Maine’s debating whether that’s fair]

In their suit, CLF, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, solar installer ReVision Energy and the Industrial Energy Consumer Group argue that change was not based on valid research or evidence.

They also argue that the rules err by allowing regulators to reach into new territory of power generation, looking not just at the transactions between a small generator and the power grid, but by also monitoring strictly on-site power generation and consumption.

The new rules would require monitoring that “behind-the-grid” generation — in a system dubbed “gross metering” — which would be factored into how much customers pay to be connected to the grid.

The lawsuit argues that kind of metering system includes “a wholly new and unprecedented delivery charge for electric customers,” by factoring power not delivered by the utility into the charge from the utility.

The lawsuit argues the new rules violate state law preventing a utility from charging exit fees to a customer “who significantly reduces or eliminates consumption of energy due to self-generation,” and another statute they argue prohibits regulation or charges for on-site power generation.

CLF and others initially tried to appeal the case to Maine’s top court, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which handles appeals of rulings from the Maine Public Utilities Commission. But the court last month declined to hear the case, finding that it does not have jurisdiction in appeals coming directly out of rulemaking by state agencies.

The PUC declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

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Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.