On Tuesday, the PUC opened a new docket (2016-00120) requesting comments from interested stakeholders about the future of net metering (also known as “net energy billing”). In January, CMP notified the Commission that in 2015 net metering resources had exceeded 1% of CMP’s peak demand, triggering PUC review under the rules. The PUC took no action on CMP’s petition while the Legislature debated LD 1649, a bill that would have replaced net metering with the “Standard Solar Buyer” model that emerged from the solar stakeholder process last fall. That bill failed to overcome Governor LePage’s veto at the end of the session. Now the PUC will decide whether to act on its own to make changes to Maine’s net metering rules.

Last week, a large coalition of solar supporters filed joint comments that requested that the PUC forego any changes to Maine’s current net metering rules at this time. The coalition argues that the prospect of significant changes to net metering rules has already had a chilling effect on new solar installations. The comments note that the Legislature is likely to take up the issue again next session, and the PUC should maintain the status quo in the mean time. The coalition requests that the PUC affirmatively state that any changes to net metering rules will not impact existing customers.

Despite the coalition’s request to maintain current net metering rules, the PUC’s request for comments suggests that it will at least consider significant rule changes in this proceeding. For instance, the PUC seeks guidance on how net metering should change based on the changing costs of distributed generation. It also seeks comments on whether it has authority to enact a similar standard solar buyer model that was set out in LD 1649 and whether it has the authority to oversee lease agreements that involve net metering.

Based on the intense debate and national attention LD 1649 received this spring, this proceeding is likely to heat up quickly.