We lost by just a handful of votes - 3 or 4. Adding insult to injury is the fact that no fewer than five Republicans decided to "take a walk" during the voting, suggesting that they did not have the courage let their positions be shown, likely because they were so out of sync with their own constituents on this issue. As he was urging his members to vote against this measure, Minority Leader Ken Fredette emphasized that "Republicans Support Solar." I find that a very difficult statement to reconcile with what I saw yesterday.
I am very frustrated by the fact that there is now very little regulatory certainty for people across Maine who installed solar arrays based on a set of ground rules that have been in place for a long time. I am equally concerned about the fine growing businesses that have taken hold in Maine to meet what, until now, was a steadily growing market for solar power.
I do want to express my sincere thanks to those members who worked hard on this issue, especially my colleagues Marty Grohman, Bobby Beavers, Chris Babbidge, Deane Rykerson, Jennifer DeChant, Norm Higgins and Mark Dion; I am very grateful for the extraordinary hard work of Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon who negotiated this down to the last minute, when Paul LePage signed the veto letter in her presence; and I appreciate the innovative thinking of our public advocate (and Portland neighbor) Tim Schneider, who determined how this bill would save money for all ratepayers.
I appreciated every one of the hundreds of calls, letters, hall visits and communications I received - not one of them suggested that this was something to vote against. Not one. Not one told me how this was going to raise costs for ratepayers - because, of course, that was only a mythological reason to oppose this.
This was a bill that had the support of solar installers, CMP, municipalities, various environmental advocacy groups, and others (including the Public Advocate, who represents ratepayers). I really appreciated that this was crafted in collaboration with all those groups, and I hope that coalition will continue to work on solving this issue.
Time to move on - good solar policy will happen eventually, of that I am confident. But in the meantime, I am very sorry that we could not provide a framework to support those who have already invested in this power source, and to allow solar energy to start making some of the inroads it has made in other New England states. This issue now lies with the Public Utilities Commission, an agency with a narrow mandate that does not necessarily take into consideration ancillary benefits to the state and society of solar power. We don't know yet when they will be taking this issue up - but I will certainly pass the relevant information along once it's available. While they may not be amenable to proactive solar regulation, there is some likelihood that they might be receptive to "grandfathering" those people, like many of you, who have invested in home solar.
I can also virtually guarantee that this legislation will be back - There is also talk of a referendum campaign. Neither of these would be immediate fixes, but it's clear to me that this issue is not going to disappear.
My fingers are crossed, which is not exactly the most effective policy strategy, but that's the one we currently have open to us.