Pro-solar bill fails again in Maine as lawmakers fall for ‘scare tactics’

State legislature unable to override governor's veto for second year in a row.

Maine lawmakers fail to override another veto by Gov. Paul LePage. CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
Maine lawmakers fail to override another veto by Gov. Paul LePage. CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

The Maine Legislature on Wednesday came up a few votes short of overriding Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) veto of a bill that would have temporarily kept financial incentives in place for residents with rooftop solar panels.

The veto override easily passed in the Senate in a 28-6 vote. In the House of Representatives, however, the 88-48 vote fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Seven Republican legislators changed their position from their prior support and voted to sustain LePage’s veto of the measure.

The vote marked the second year in a row that LePage has seen his veto of a key solar bill sustained by a narrow margin. In 2016, the Maine House of Representatives upheld the governor’s veto of a much more comprehensive solar bill by only two votes. That bill had the support of electric utilities, environmental groups, and solar installers.

“Despite the bill’s overwhelming passage in June and widespread public support, clean energy in Maine has once again fallen victim to Gov. LePage’s and utilities’ anti-progress stance,” Conservation Law Foundation attorney Emily Green said in a statement.

In July, LePage vetoed L.D. 1504, a bill that directs state regulators to study how to transition away from the state’s current system for reimbursing customers who own or lease solar panels whose excess power gets sent to the grid. Under the legislation, regulators would need to complete the study of the state’s solar industry by 2019.

“The solar bill was a significant compromise, crafted almost exclusively by Republican lawmakers, and falling far short of the comprehensive solar bill considered in 2016, but the outcome was the same: the governor’s baseless ideology, aided by false claims from utilities, prevented Maine from moving forward with clean solar energy,” Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a statement.

The bill garnered more than two-thirds majorities in the Maine legislature, enough to overturn LePage’s veto. However, supporters worried that Republicans would change their votes on such a modest bill — a fear that came true this week.

With the lawmakers sustaining the veto, a new rule adopted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission earlier this year is closer to going into effect. The rule would weaken net metering, especially for new distributed generation customers. The rule would grandfather net-metering credits for current solar homeowners for 15 years, and phase out benefits for new solar owners over 10 years. The rule also requires electric utilities to install a second meter to measure the output of the customer’s distributed generation installation.

However, environmental groups are challenging the PUC’s rule in court. The Conservation Law Foundation said its challenge of the rule will continue to move forward at the Maine Law Court.

With their profits at stake, it is not surprising that electric utilities Central Maine Power and Emera lobbied with the governor to block this bill, Voorhees said. National utility groups, “some with direct connections to the Koch brothers,” also spent heavily to defend the PUC’s rule and block the solar energy bill, he noted.

“What is more surprising is that many legislators went along, allowing grossly misleading claims and scare tactics to change their votes,” Voorhees said.