Community-based renewable energy in Maine

Friday, December 30, 2011

An innovative program in Maine seeks to facilitate the development of community-based renewable energy projects.  The program offers significant incentives for the development of qualified electric generation projects of up to 10 MW in size.

In 2009, the Maine legislature enacted a law establishing the Community-Based Renewable Energy Pilot Program to encourage the sustainable development of community-based renewable energy.  By community-based, Maine's program targets locally-owned community-scale projects (as opposed to large-scale renewable projects owned primarily by out-of-state entities).

Under the program, qualified renewable energy projects can receive significant incentives including a long-term contract to sell the facility’s output to a Maine transmission and distribution utility for up to 20 years at average prices up to $100 per MWh (equivalent to 10¢ per kWh). This incentive is attractive because not only can the contract prices be above average market prices, but also the long-term power purchase agreement makes projects easier to finance by enhancing revenue certainty.

Eligible projects can apply to the Maine Public Utilities Commission for certification as community-based renewable energy projects. This process involves making public filings, negotiating with Commission staff, and demonstrating that the project meets the program’s qualification requirements. These include restrictions on resource type, nameplate capacity, and ownership.

Under the pilot program, eligible resources include:
  • fuel cells
  • tidal power
  • solar energy
  • wind systems
  • geothermal systems
  • hydroelectric generators
  • generators fueled by landfill gas
  • biomass generators whose fuel includes anaerobic digestion of agricultural products, byproducts or wastes.
Each individual project must not exceed 10 MW in nameplate capacity. Projects must also be primarily locally owned, meaning that 51% or more of the facility must be owned by Maine residents, governmental entities, businesses, or other qualifying local owners.

Once certified, a qualified project can choose either of two incentives: a long-term contract for the output of the facility with a transmission and distribution utility, or a renewable energy credit (REC) multiplier giving a 50% bonus in the amount of RECs produced.

To date, most have viewed the long-term contract as the more attractive option. Under this incentive, projects meeting the program’s requirements can obtain a contract at a fixed or variable price, provided that two criteria are met. First, the average price per kilowatt-hour must not exceed 10 cents. Second, the cost of the contract must not exceed the cost of the project plus a reasonable rate of return on investment as determined by the Commission. These contracts may be approved for up to 20 year terms.  Projects smaller than 1 MW can contract directly with the utility, while larger projects go through a competitive process held periodically by the Commission.

What will 2012 bring for Maine's community-based renewable energy pilot program?

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