Maine regulator warns community solar projects might not be as ‘clean’ as they suggest

Maine Public | By Fred Bever
Published February 1, 2022 at 9:15 PM EST

So you signed up to participate in one of the new "community solar" projects that are popping up around the state, and feeling pretty good about using renewable energy. Not so fast, though. One state official says the program's structure can result in customers consuming more fossil-fuel energy than before, potentially undermining Maine's green energy goals.

Since lawmakers authorized the community solar program in 2019, thousands of Maine residents and organizations have signed up to make payments that help finance the development, construction and operation of midsize solar power plants. In return, they will receive per-kilowatt-hour credits on their electricity bills that should save them money overall.

But Andrew Landry, deputy director of the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, had a counterintuitive message for lawmakers last week. The electricity that subscribers to the community solar credit program actually receive "is more dirty than the power you get from the grid," Landry said.

It's bit of a brain teaser, but here's how Landry's analysis works. When a megawatt of electricity is created from renewable sources like the sun, it has two valuable attributes: one is the energy itself, which is sold into the regional grid at the going rate. The other is what's called a renewable energy certificate, or REC, which the developers can sell to the highest bidder.

The bidders usually are energy suppliers — middlemen who have to make sure the mix of electricity they sell to retail consumers meets state clean energy standards.

But when a community solar developer strips the RECs and sells them on the open market, the electricity itself from the project no longer qualifies as renewable energy.

"As a result there's no certainty that when you participate in the (solar credit) program that you're getting renewable energy. In fact if the developers are not doing anything to back that power with renewable attributes," he says, "then the power that they're buying is not as clean as the power they would get if they simply stayed with the standard offer or with a competitive supplier."

In other words, while the solar subscribers are helping increase the supply of clean energy that's put on the grid, they may also be increasing their own dependence on electricity that isn't subject to the renewable standards.

Other energy experts in Maine agree. But they also emphasize that over time, every addition of new renewable energy sources to the grid will help to displace fossil fuel sources.

"When a new solar project is built in Maine, the electric grid becomes cleaner than it otherwise would be, and it doesn't matter where the RECs go, who buys them or who retires them — the grid is cleaner," says Richard Silkman, a competitive energy supplier in Portland.

Silkman says he has counseled some community solar developers to make sure their marketing materials don't mislead subscribers into thinking they are procuring renewable energy to serve their own needs, but rather just helping to increase overall green energy supply.

But Landry says the issue is bigger than messaging. With hundreds of megawatts of solar capacity potentially coming online under the new program, he says, the state's efforts to significantly expand renewable energy consumption is in danger.

"It does increase the amount of clean energy that's produced in Maine, but it reduces the amount of clean energy that's consumed in Maine. You have to have both sides of the equation or else you don't meet your clean energy goals," he says.

Landry has submitted a bill to the Legislature that could require community solar developers to keep the RECs with the electricity they produce or buy them on the open market.

That's getting pushback from community solar developers and their advocates, like Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. He says community solar developers are relying on the sale of RECs for 20-30% of their revenues.

"I guess the assumption is, 'Oh they'll just figure it out.' The answer is no, they won't. Projects will fail, deals will crumble. And I think what it also does is call into question how serious is the state about its clean energy transition," he says.

Payne notes that lawmakers already put brakes on the program last year, after utility regulators warned it was growing so fast it could throw tens of millions of dollars of new costs onto nonsolar electricity consumers. That shook the financial community's confidence in Maine as a reliable place to invest, he says. More retroactive policy making he says, would make matters worse.

"It's ridiculous. There are lots of things that you learn through the course of seeing policy implemented and functioning. What you've seen other states do is they've applied those lessons to the next iteration of the policy," he says.

Landry says he has no doubt that the next time the state creates a new program to encourage renewable energy, it will address both the production and consumption sides of the equation.

Meantime, though, he believes the community solar developers have a big enough revenue cushion to absorb the bill's potential costs. Legislative leaders last week declined to send the measure to committee, but they didn't quite kill it either, leaving its fate in the shortened legislative session an open question.

https://www.mainepublic.org/business-and-economy/2022-02-01/maine-o...

Tom Saviello announces he will not run for governor

Saviello, 71, is a Wilton selectperson, prominent New England Clean Energy Connect-corridor opponent and former District 17 state senator.

Saviello announced in July 2021 that he was considering a run for governor and would make a decision following the November 2021 election where voters passed Referendum Question 1 to reject the NECEC corridor.

In a statement, Saviello said there were six primary reasons for his decision.

He feels he “cannot identify” with younger voters.

“I do not know what is important to them and what they want in their lives as far as the government is concerned,” Saviello said. “It is time this generation takes the lead in making Maine a great place to live, work and play.”

Saviello is also unhappy with the “polarizing,” “uncompromising” partisanship in government.

He said it would take “a tremendous amount of energy” to bring together the parties, “work across the aisle,” which is “energy I would rather spend on my family.”

Alongside not having the energy to battle partisanship, Saviello said he is “tired of party politics” overall.

“Instead of being allowed to vote for who we want to represent us as governor, we are told by a political party who the candidates will be,” he wrote.

The fourth reason on Saviello’s list was his concern about being “a spoiler in the election.”

“In my time in Maine there have been four times where a third-party candidate’s ballot presence secured the win for another candidate,” Saviello said. “This resulted in good governors, “so-so” governors and a disaster. You can decide yourself which one is which.”

Saviello said he’s also still entangled with the NECEC corridor cases in the court right now which are “requiring (his) focus and attention.”

He was one of the lead petitioners to get the referendum question banning the NECEC corridor, on the November 2021 Maine state ballot.

Saviello said that his last and most important reason for not running is that he wants to retire.

“I have served the public in some capacity or another for over 40 years,” he wrote.

Saviello said he’s ready to dedicate more time to his downtown Farmington store, the Mercantile, and his family — though he added that “I am sure I will find some special project to work on where I believe the people’s voice is not being heard.”

Ultimately, Saviello will not be endorsing either lead candidate — former Republican Gov. Paul LePage or current Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

In the statement, Saviello emphasized that both LePage and Mills are older than him and hopes that they are both “asked how they will identify with this generation.”

Continue reading at:

https://www.sunjournal.com/2022/02/02/tom-saviello-announces-he-wil...

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Comment by Dan McKay on February 5, 2022 at 8:58am

The disconnect is our state is hosting 1000's of megawatts of dumb wind and solar which is not a factor in the green goals because it's the purchase of the RECs that determine whether goals are achieved. We as a state are advancing towards energy intermittency. The policies will crush us if not stopped. 

Comment by Willem Post on February 3, 2022 at 6:47am

EXCERPT from:

UNDERSTATING CO2 EMISSIONS PER KILOWATT-HOUR TO HYPE EVs AND HEAT PUMPS

https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/some-ne-state-governments-play-deceptive-games-with-co2-emissions

Electricity travels, as electromagnetic waves, at slightly less than the speed of light, i.e., almost 1860 mile in 0.01 second, i.e., from northern Maine to southern Florida in 0.01 second! The electrons largely vibrate in place at 60 cycles per second.

 

It is nonsense for RE folks to talk of the “Vermont Energy mix”, or the “New Hampshire energy mix”, or to use a “paper PPA energy mix”. These fictitious mixes have no physical basis.

 

BTW, if electricity did not travel that fast, the operation of electric grids would be physically impossible.

 

https://vermontbiz.com/news/2021/may/20/vermont-makes-progress-carb...
https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/poor-economics-of-elec...

Comment by Willem Post on February 3, 2022 at 6:41am

MAIN IS LEARNING THE SAME THING VERMONT AND OTHER STATES HAVE LEARNED A FEW YEARS AGO

The same back and forth arguments by there same people.

BASIC RULE: THE MORE WIND AND SOLAR, THE MORE EXPENSIVE THE ELECTRICITY ON THE GRID

Here are some real numbers regarding costs

EXCERPT from:

HIGH COSTS OF WIND, SOLAR, AND BATTERY SYSTEMS IN US NORTHEAST

https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/high-costs-of-wind-sol...

EXORBITANT “ALL-IN” ELECTRICITY COST OF WIND AND SOLAR IN NEW ENGLAND

 

https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/high-costs-of-wind-sol...

http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/cost-shifting-is-the-na...

 

Pro RE folks always point to the “price paid to owner” as the cost of wind and solar, purposely ignoring the other cost categories. The all-in cost of wind and solar, c/kWh, includes:

 

1) Above-market-price paid to Owners 

2) Subsidies paid to Owners

3) Owner return on invested capital at about 9%/y

4) Grid extension/augmentation

5) Grid support services, including fees for:

 

- Capacity availability (i.e., plants are fueled, staffed, kept in good working order, ready to produce on short notice)

- More frequent plant start-up/shut-down

 

6) Future battery systems

 

Comments on table 1

   

- Vermont legacy SO solar systems had greater subsidies, up to 30 c/kWh paid to owner, than newer systems, about 11 c/kWh

- Wind prices paid to owner did not have the drastic reductions as solar prices.

- Vermont utilities are paid about 3.5 c/kWh for various costs they incur regarding net-metered solar systems

- "Added to the rate base" is the cost wind and solar are added to the utility rate base, used to set electric rates.

- “Total cost”, including subsidies to owner and grid support, is the cost at which wind/solar are added to the utility rate base

- “NE utility cost” is the annual average cost of purchased electricity, about 6 c/kWh, plus NE grid operator charges, about 1.6 c/kWh

for a total of 7.6 c/kWh.

- “Grid support costs” would increase with increased use of battery systems to counteract the variability and intermittency of increased build-outs of wind and solar systems.

 

NOTES:

1) NE wholesale grid price averaged about 5 c/kWh or less, starting in 2009, due to low-cost CCGT and nuclear plants providing at least 65% of all electricity loaded onto the NE grid, in 2019.

 

- Wind, solar, landfill gas, and methane power plants provided about 4.8%

- Pre-existing refuse and wood power plants provided about 4.6%

- Pre-existing hydro power plants provided about 7.4%

- The rest was mostly hydro imports from the very-low-CO2 Canada grid, and from the much-higher-CO2 New York State grid

 

https://www.iso-ne.com/about/key-stats/resource-mix/

https://nepool.com/uploads/NPC_20200305_Composite4.pdf


2) There are Owning and Operating costs of the NE grid, in addition to utility wholesale prices.

ISO-NE pro-rates these O&O costs to utilities, at about 1.6 c/kWh.

 

3) NE charges are for: 

 
Regional network services, RNS, based on the utility peak demand occurring during a month

Forward capacity market, FCM, based on the utility peak demand occurring during a year.

 

Table 1/VT & NE sources

Paid to

Subsidy

Grid

GMP

 Added

ISO-NE

Total

NE

Times

 

 

paid to

support

 

to rate

RNS+

 

utility

 

owner

towner

cost

adder

base

FCM

cost

cost

c/kWh

c/kWh

c/kWh

c/kWh

c/kWh

c/kWh

c/kWh

c/kWh

Solar, rooftop, net-metered, new

17.4

5.2

2.1

3.5

20.9

1.6

29.8

7.6

3.92

Solar, rooftop, net-metered, legacy

18.2

5.4

2.1

3.5

21.7

1.6

30.8

7.6

4.05

Solar, standard offer, combo

11.0

6.74

2.1

11.0

1.6

21.44

7.6

2.82

Solar, standard offer, legacy

21.7

10.5

2.1

21.7

1.6

35.9

7.6

4.72

Wind, ridge line, new

8.5

3.9

2.4

8.5

1.6

16.4

7.6

2.15

Wind, offshore, new

9.0

4.1

2.4

9.0

1.6

17.1

7.6

2.25

 

Sample calculation; NE utility cost = 6, Purchased + 1.6, (RNS + FCM) = 7.6 c/kWh

Sample calculation; added to utility base = 17.4 + 3.5 = 20.9 c/kWh

Sample calculation; total cost = 17.4 + 5.2 + 2.1 + 3.5 + 1.6 = 29.8 c/kWh

 

Excludes costs for very expensive battery systems

Excludes costs for very expensive floating, offshore wind systems

Excludes cost for dealing with shortfalls during multi-day wind/solar lulls. See URL

https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/wind-and-solar-provide...

 

“Added to rate base” is for recent 20-y electricity supply contracts awarded by competitive bidding in NE.

“Added to rate base” would be much higher without subsidies and cost shifting.

 

US regions with good wind and solar conditions, and low construction costs/kW, produce at low c/kWh.

NE has poor wind conditions, except on pristine ridge lines, and the poorest solar conditions in the US, except the rainy, Seattle area.

NE has highest on-shore, ridgeline construction costs/kW ($2,400/kW in 2020), produces at high c/kWh

See page 39 of URL

https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2021-08/Land-Based%20Win...

 

 

Maine as Third World Country:

CMP Transmission Rate Skyrockets 19.6% Due to Wind Power

 

Click here to read how the Maine ratepayer has been sold down the river by the Angus King cabal.

Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT

******** IF LINKS BELOW DON'T WORK, GOOGLE THEM*********

(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/wind-power-bandwagon-hits-bumps-in-the-road-3/From Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/wind-swept-task-force-set-the-rules/From Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.” https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/flaws-in-bill-like-skating-with-dull-skates/

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."

https://pinetreewatch.org/wind-power-bandwagon-hits-bumps-in-the-road-3/

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