Incentivizing solar might be good, but not if I’m personally funding it

I’m no expert on the nuances of solar power or the solar power industry. I don’t know if investing in residential solar is better than investing in larger scale solar energy production — or if both should be valued equally.

I do understand that a healthy solar power industry is part of a diversified renewable energy portfolio and a way to help diversify the Maine economy. So it makes sense that government should help the market develop and grow.

Solar panel array.  Stock photo

Solar panel array. Stock photo

It just doesn’t make sense to come to me as a funding source, which, if I understand the net metering program correctly, is what currently happens. Net metering is an incentive program that pays solar producers for their excess electricity — at retail rates — to help offset the upfront costs of installing solar equipment.

Roughly two percent of ratepayers’ bills goes to fund this program.

Now, when it comes to running behind on my electric bill, I am an expert, and I am not alone in this expertise. A friend and fellow single mother used to call Central Maine Power the poor person’s line of credit. That was back when CMP was a Maine company and was very generous with extending credit as long as a minimal amount was paid and further arrangements made.

If you needed a lump sum for a sudden car repair, you could usually count on CMP to show mercy if you called. Not always so with other utilities.

My expertise is such that I could describe how the phone calls about credit extensions have changed as various companies have acquired CMP in recent years. Or how when CMP was acquired by Spain-based Iberdrola, the hold music suddenly changed to Spanish guitar arrangements.

As I told the representative who took one of my calls after that acquisition, the music was lovely, but it was also an unfortunate reminder that my utility dollars weren’t even staying in my country, let alone my state, anymore. CMP has changed hands yet again to a US-based subsidiary of Iberdrola now, and last I called, the Spanish guitar was gone.

But I digress. My point is, I’m not the right funding source for any incentivizing program. Period.

Two percent seems insignificant to people whose income allows them to stay current on their electric bill, or better yet, to go off the grid entirely. Anything over zero percent seems unreasonable to me, as someone who has had times when I couldn’t afford to be on the grid at all, were it not for credit extensions.

Let’s just say that two percent amounts to $10-$20 a year. Chump change for some, admittedly. For others, it’s a desperately needed quarter to a half a tank of gas, a few to several gallons of milk, a couple-ish large loads of laundry at the laundromat, or any other number things poor Mainers struggle to afford.

Net metering is on the front burner for the Public Utilities Commission and the 128th Legislature, and expert voices have been heard and will continue to be heard as the program is evaluated and revamped. If the consensus reached allows for the program to continue, I hope it includes a funding source that can actually afford to be a funding source.

Endnote to my Democratic friends:  Net metering is one of those things that it would have been alright to compromise with Governor LePage about. It’s just a hunch, but agreeing with him on occasion might have created leverage/credibility to use when attempting to call him out on his more outrageous policies and behaviors. I’m a pretty harsh critic of some of LePage’s policies and conduct, but even I have found a few areas of agreement.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.