Solar energy is booming across the country with an average annual growth rate of 50 percent over the last 10 years. Due to pent up customer demand for more clean energy, emission reductions, and local economic growth, solar energy is quickly becoming an American success story.
Unfortunately, that story has yet to be told in Maine. Today, only a small minority of Maine households and businesses have access to solar because they either rent, live in buildings, or have roofs that are unable to host a solar system onsite.
Community solar offers a solution to these barriers, providing homeowners, renters and businesses equal access to the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy generation regardless of the physical attributes or ownership of their home or business. Community solar enables customers to participate in a shared solar installation located in their community and receive a credit on their utility bill for their share of the power that the solar project produces.
We are currently seeing an unprecedented number of states introduce and pass community solar legislation across the country. Most recently, legislation to expand community solar and adopt clean energy mandates was passed in Colorado and Maryland by Democratic and Republican governors, respectively.
A bipartisan bill moving in the Legislature — LD 1711 — promises to create a robust community solar program and finally make solar power more equitable and affordable across the state. The bill seeks to unlock Maine’s solar potential, removing many barriers to the greater development of community solar across the state. In particular, the bill will allow 250 megawatts of new solar energy to be developed and remove the arbitrary limit on the number of subscribers that can participate in a community solar project.
The Coalition for Community Solar Access recently released an assessment on the potential economic impacts that would result from the development of community solar in Maine. Utilizing data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the assessment’s economic forecast is rather staggering. Based on the new development of 250 megawatts of community solar between 2020 and 2024, the data forecasts that Maine can expect to see the following:
An 87 percent increase in solar jobs, totaling 553 sustained jobs during the construction of the solar facilities; $323.5 million in local economic benefits across the state, with the exception of local tax revenues; $157 million in earnings for those employed, or approximately $27 an hour; and 250 megawatts of community solar that would serve approximately 18,100 customers, bringing access to many who have not been early solar adopters in the state.
In addition to the jobs and benefits of expanded access, the potential for bill savings is another key reason to create a community solar program this legislative session. Sunshine is free, which means solar offers reliable energy at a predictable rate for decades. Customers can sign up to participate in a community solar project in a few minutes and begin receiving power production credits on their next utility bill — generally with no upfront costs. And community solar allows customers to move within their utility territory and still retain their subscription, making it an easy, portable energy solution.
The passage of LD 1711 will give Maine the opportunity to grow our economy by creating jobs, supporting our local economies and more specifically, providing equitable access to clean and renewable energy for everyone. With LD 1711, Maine has the opportunity to contribute to America’s solar success story.
Jeff Cramer is executive director of the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a coalition of businesses and nonprofits working to expand customer choice and access to solar for all American households and businesses through community solar.