Maine PUC considers community energy projects

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is evaluating the viability of proposed community-based renewable energy projects that remain under development.

Maine has run a community-based renewable energy program since 2009.  The program gives qualified wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects long-term contracting opportunities to sell the facility’s output to a Maine transmission and distribution utility at attractive rates.

In 2015, the Maine Legislature adopted P.L. 2015 ch. 232, An Act to Amend the Community-based Renewable Energy Program”.  Beyond minor revisions to the law, the act adds strict deadlines for key program milestones: the Public Utilities Commission has until December 31, 2015 to order or allow utilities to enter into long-term contracts under the program, and all projects selected for a contract must become operational and commence generating electricity by December 31, 2018.

Section 5 of the Act also created a new "viability assessment" process designed to make sure the program is as effective as possible.  The program size is capped at 50 megawatts statewide; all of this capacity was quickly claimed by certified projects.  But not all projects that have been certified are operational; some have yet to be built.  Some stakeholders expressed concern over "permit banking" -- developers obtaining and holding onto program capacity, without actively developing it, while other projects would move forward if they could get the capacity.

As a result, the Legislature directed the Commission to review all certified projects that have not yet reached commercial operations, to determine whether the projects are reasonably likely to achieve commercial operations within a 3-year period.   If the Commission determines a project will not be viable by December 31, 2018, the Act directs the Commission to revoke any contract awarded, but such projects will remain certified under the program.   If the removal of nonviable projects frees up program capacity for contracting, the law directs the Commission to conduct an expedited request for proposals to select community-based renewable energy projects to become program participants and enter into long-term contracts.

The Commission's viability assessment process is now ongoing.  A July 13, 2015 procedural order identified six projects as having been either certified or awarded a contract, but not been placed in commercial operation.  Project developers were invited to submit information related to the viability assessment by August 7. 

The Commission meets on September 22 to deliberate on the viability assessments.

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