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Solar energy gets big boost from Legislature

Lawmakers on Tuesday gave final passage to a solar bill to encourage more and larger solar projects.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature is hoping to wrap up work this week, and among the last big issues is what supporters are calling a "game changer" for solar energy.

Lawmakers on Tuesday gave final passage to a solar bill to encourage more and larger solar projects -- both commercial developments and typically smaller "community solar farms".

Current state law has restricted the size of those solar farm projects to a maximum of nine people, pooling their resources to build a solar panel array. But the bill that’s been sent to the Governor would eliminate size limits, allowing larger projects more investors.

The bill also significantly raises size limits on commercial or municipal solar projects.

"We’ve got large industrial consumers of electricity who want access to clean solar to lower their costs. We have universities that want access to clean solar," says Phil Coupe, co-founder of Revision Energy in South Portland.

Current state law caps the size of those commercial projects at 1 megawatt. Larger projects must get approval from the utility that will buy the power, according to Coupe. The bill passed by Legislators Tuesday raises the cap to 5 MW.

Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says there are lots of pent-up demands among business and consumers to expand solar and believes the bill will help make that happen.

"This bill will result in much larger use of solar in the state," Voorhees says. "Remember, we’re at last place in the amount of solar per capita in New England. We’ve been in last place five years -- last place in the number of solar jobs."

He says there will be an increase in jobs, as well as the amount of solar development.

That bill is awaiting a signature by the Governor to become law.

Meanwhile, a second solar bill is working its way through the Legislature. Supporters say that bill would, among other things, encourage more development of very large, grid-scale solar projects.

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