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Gary Friedmann is a member of the Bar Harbor Town Council. He spearheaded the town’s first-in-Versant territory solar-powered public works facilities and locally owned community-solar farm.
By leaving out the math behind utility rates, the March 7 front-page story on solar farms leaves readers with misleading conclusions. The Bangor Daily News neglected to explain how residents can sign up for savings through solar subscriptions, and ignored solar programs benefiting residents at every income level.
Subscription models of community solar are extremely regressive, siphoning ratepayer dollars out of Maine to out-of-state investors. But this BDN article starts and ends with the suggestion that the high cost of electricity is due to low-income households being exploited by solar farms, casting doubts on all solar.
Unfortunately, this shallowly researched report portrays a superficial understanding of the economics of grid-tied solar energy. It could have included data from reports commissioned by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, academics and other states on how solar actually saves all ratepayers money by displacing expensive fossil fuel generators at peak load hours and reducing the need for expensive transmission, not to mention the environmental and health benefits of reduced emissions.
It neglected to report on the millions of dollars Bar Harbor and other towns’ school and municipal taxpayers are saving on reduced energy costs. It ignores the work of A Climate to Thrive on co-op solar and other initiatives that bring solar savings to low- and moderate-income households. And it lacks the nuanced explanation of the difference between subscription solar farms and those owned outright by its members.
Versant Power customers paid about 6 cents per kilowatt hour for supply in 2020-2021, increasing to 11 cents in 2022, and to nearly 15 cents in 2023. This article incorrectly suggests that solar farms are the reason these rates have skyrocketed.
The story misses the context of how much natural gas has increased electricity costs. While reports may be true that subscription solar farms are increasing monthly costs for average ratepayers by $4 to $5 a month, increasing natural gas costs have driven rates up by $40 to $50 a month. The BDN could have explained how households can easily sign up for 15 percent savings on electricity through solar subscriptions, saving $15 to $20 per month, four to five times more than ratepayers bear for community solar.
Postulating that all 750 community solar farms currently proposed in Maine could come online by 2024 is a huge assumption given epic interconnection blockages from Central Maine Power and Versant Power.
The bottom line is that climate change is barreling toward us at breakneck speed. It’s up to all of us to do everything possible to reduce emissions through solar and wind power, aggressive conservation and electrification in every sector of Maine’s economy. There is no perfect solution, but Maine’s 2019 legislation encouraging every kind of solar was a good start.
Yes, subscription solar needs reform to benefit low-income ratepayers. But let’s not join the obstructionists blocking transformative change.
There are many hopeful stories about climate solutions including innovative solar projects throughout Maine. Let’s see solutions-oriented reporting in the BDN to inspire rapid progress that leads to hope through action.