- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - A bill that aims to boost solar power in Maine faces long odds after failing to win the support of Republicans on a key legislative panel.

Environmental groups, power companies and local rooftop solar installers support the bill, which would address the contentious issue of “net metering,” a long-standing financial incentive used in Maine and other states to subsidize solar power.

Utilities would buy surplus electricity at rates set by regulators instead of paying retail prices, which is the current practice. The bill also would let utilities sign 20-year contracts with residential solar customers and lift barriers on community-owned and large solar farms.

But Republicans on the Legislature’s energy committee on Tuesday opposed the legislation because of fears it would increase the electric bills of people who don’t have solar panels and increase energy costs for businesses.

A 20-year contract doesn’t make sense because solar technology is changing so quickly, said Rep. Larry Dunphy, who caucuses with Republicans.

“I am not against solar,” he said. “I am just against having my neighbor pay for my solar.”

Republicans offered two alternative proposals, and both would doom the solar industry in Maine, said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of a small solar business in Pittsfield and chair of the renewable energy committee on the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professions.

“The question is which one kills the solar industry in Maine quicker,” he said.

At issue is a billing practice called net metering, which requires utilities to provide a one-to-one credit to solar customers on their bills for the surplus power they generate and feed into the grid.

Unless the Legislature takes action this session, the Public Utilities Commission is expected to review net metering rules. Maine’s solar installers and environmental groups fear that the commission will eliminate net metering and remove all incentives for installing solar. Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent of solar, appointed the members of the commission.

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