By Phil Hirschkorn
GRAY, Maine (WMTW) — A new law passed by the state legislature this year and signed by Governor Janet Mills last month will reform how the state pays for solar power.
As a result, Maine residents and businesses are expected to pay less for electricity generated by community solar farms constructed in the future.
The law changes how consumers compensate developers who build and operate community solar farms like the one in Gray on a 20-acre sliver of land between two highways.
Nautilus Solar began running it 13 months ago, in July 2022, one of its 12 farms in Maine producing renewable energy and reducing earth-warming carbon dioxide emissions.
Sen. Mark Lawrence, (D) Co-Chair, Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee, who sponsored the law, said, “Each time one of these solar sites goes in, we’re improving the strength of our distribution system in the state. That increases reliability, that increases efficiency, it decreases power outages. So, it’s building the health of our grid.”
Nautilus Solar partnered with Endurance Clean Energy to build the Gray solar farm and a newer one twice as large in North Berwick, which came online in June.
Michael Lucini, President, Endurance Clean Energy, said, “I always say that clean renewable energy, local energy, is energy security, both price and supply.”
Solar power accounts for less than 5% of New England’s electricity, but critics of Maine’s billing formula, in place since 2019, had argued the state has been paying too much.
However, supporters of the new law point out New England’s dependence on expensive and volatile natural gas has driven up electricity rates for Maine people ten times more than solar power: Community solar farms added $5.95 a month to the average Maine homeowners’ electricity bill since July, while natural gas added nearly $61.98 a month for the past two years, $31.98 in 2023 and $30.00 in 2022, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
Lucini said, “New England for its energy production is absolutely addicted to natural gas. Especially in the winter that becomes problematic when it’s competing with heat. So, the more we can diversify our energy production, the less we expose ourselves to that.”
The new law also directs the governor’s energy office to seek federal funds available through the Inflation Reduction Act for new solar project developers.
Lawrence said, “It also gives them an incentive to add storage to their projects. When you combine solar with storage, it suddenly becomes much more economically efficient.”
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