On January 31, 2017, the Maine Public Utilities Commission adopted revisions to its rule chapter 313, governing net energy billing. Net metering, or net energy billing, is the metering and billing mechanism that Maine and most other states have adopted to promote the development of solar photovoltaic and other distributed renewable energy facilities. While the Commission first adopted a net energy billing rule in the early 1980s, its 2017 revisions to that rule reduce the benefits of net metering for future projects. Here's a look at Maine's revised net energy billing rules.
The Commission described its actions in a written order dated March 1, and published its final rule on the same date. Most notably, the Commission reduced the amount of future generation facility output that can be netted against its transmission and distribution utility bill -- by first introducing, then reducing, a concept called "nettable energy." Nettable energy is now the entire amount of energy generated by the facility, including the amount consumed by a customer “behind-the-meter”. This shift -- from netting on a net basis, to netting on a gross basis -- is a significant change in state policy that is unfavorable for behind-the-meter generation.
As before, a net energy billing customer with solar or other eligible generation may offset all of its energy supply bill with its nettable energy. But the Commission's new rule phases out the former 100% crediting of net energy for transmission and distribution charges. Depending on the year into which a project is placed in service, the new rule reduces the portion of the "nettable output" -- what counts for netting -- by 10% in each of the next 10 years, reaching 0% T&D crediting for customers that become net energy billing customers after calendar year 2026. The result is a gradual reduction of the incentive to net energy bill. (Note that once a customer becomes a net energy billing customer, its rate treatment will generally last for 15 years. Likewise, existing net energy billing customers may continue to net bill under the previous rule's approach for a 15-year period, after which they could continue to net for supply but not for T&D.)
The Commission also added a section covering renewable energy credit (REC) aggregation. Section 4 of Chapter 313 provides that new customers in 2018 and after may elect to have the RECs or environmental attributes of project power be aggregated by their local investor-owned utility for sale into the regional market, with the proceeds returned to participating customers. The Commission described its decision to include a REC aggregation program as "an effort to obtain on an optional basis a value stream that is not currently being monetized." If small renewable projects would qualify for RECs, but are either not doing so or are not selling the RECs, REC aggregation options may allow some projects to connect with the market. On the other hand, by selling the RECs, the project owner or power consumer cannot claim to have consumed green electricity, so there are tradeoffs.
The Commission did not change some other aspects of the rule, such as maximum project size (660 kW) or its limit on the number of accounts or meters permissible under a single net energy billing arrangement (10). It noted, "Fundamental changes to NEB in Maine and promotional programs for larger renewable and community solar projects are the purview of the Legislature as a matter of State energy policy."
Based on a list of legislative requests, the state legislature will consider at least 12 bills relating to solar energy in its 2017 session.
On March 10, the Commission published a Frequently Asked Questions document covering the Chapter 313 net metering rules. The FAQ provides answers to 10 questions, ranging from why the Commission changed the rule, to providing specific examples of how much nettable energy a customer would be able to claim depending on the year in which its project was placed in service.