AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — In late April, the governor and Legislature took the wind out of the sails of alternative energy advocates.
Governor LePage vetoed LD 1649, a bill to modernize Maine's solar power policy, paving the way for larger-scale solar projects at businesses and industry.
“It is definitely challenging to be growing a business against the headwinds of public policy,” Fortunat Mueller of ReVision Energy explained at his Portland-based office.
Much of ReVision’s work involves both residential and commercial projects. The prices for both, he says, are coming down, becoming more affordable for all Mainers. He spent many days in Augusta during the Solar debate, testifying, lobbying for and educating legislators “on the facts of solar and alternative energy.”
Mueller is watching what happens next week closely the Public Utilities Commission opens up a hotly contested piece of the solar energy debate — net metering. They will review the policy currently on the books, which Mueller says is dramatically behind most other states in the country. One percent in Maine, five, 10 and 15 percent elsewhere.
“In New England and across the country, regulators and policymakers are realizing that renewable energy and distributable energy are really an important part of reducing fossil fuel use over time and mitigate the effect of climate change and they're mostly pushing policies that are supportive of these things,” Mueller said emphatically.
One of those solar supporters is Chris Wasileski, Development Project Manager at Ocean View at Falmouth: “We saw that our incoming residents and our customer base are baby boomers and they are very interested in green energy, clean energy.”
Wasileski helped to develop 34 cottages, most of which have been completed. Every one of the units has a series of solar panels on the roof and each one was pre-sold prior to construction.
Wasileski attributes that strong interest to the solar power. “Folks do see a major net benefit to having a zero electric bill, and eliminating net metering practices, I think, will really hurt a lot of folks that are on the forefront of the solar revolution here in Maine.”
Back at ReVision Energy’s Presumpscot Street offices, Fortunat Mueller shares his frustration over the Governor’s veto and the legislature’s lack of support. “Unfortunately in the legislative debate facts just didn’t carry the day. As is often the case in Augusta, whoever screams the loudest gets heard the most,” he mused.
Mueller says he spends many days working hard to educate people around the state about the “value of solar energy”. He describes the uphill battle in Maine over solar as an opposition other nearby states haven’t had to face. “I think right now the New York legislature is considering a bill to make, to set a target of 50% renewable energy in New York State by 2030. A pretty aggressive move and meanwhile we’re basically standing still,” he shared.
Indeed, ReVision Energy’s customer based slides beyond state lines, where policies and regulations involving solar energy are what Mueller says are “smarter, more favorable” for growth. “We’re a Maine company but we do work in other states as well. And, there’s a dramatic difference between the way our business has grown in New Hampshire and the way it’s grown in Maine."
We’re growing in Maine and we’re finding lots of people interested in the products we’re selling and providing but we do it sort of in spite of public policy instead of because of it which is really a shame,” Mueller mused.
Despite that, ReVision Energy leaders say they’re confident Maine legislators will eventually come around.
“Over its life, solar is cheaper than pretty much any other energy source out there.”