The Maine state legislature is considering a novel plan that appears to move rooftop solar power into more mainstream marketplace, reports Greentech Media:
The bill proposes to replace net metering — which credits rooftop solar customers at the full retail electricity rate for excess energy they send to the grid — with a 20-year contract at a set price for net exports measured hourly. The contract price would be determined by the Public Utilities Commission at a level high enough to drive the rooftop solar market, but subject to an overall program cost cap. Customers would have the option to contract for the purchase of all the solar power they generate, or to use their generation on site and sell only the excess.
The plan hinges on the concept of a solar “standard buyer” that would purchase and aggregate the output from solar systems, and sell it into New England’s wholesale energy markets. The legislation designates this role to the state’s investor-owned utilities, which could use the market revenue to offset program costs.
Greentech Media is pro-solar power and seems to like this plan, or at least not dislike it (compared to its coverage of, say, Nevada’s solar about-face).
Certainly the current method of ensuring that solar power makes financial sense – net metering, in which the utility has to buy all your excess PV output at full rates – is showing signs of weakening amid much debate. This system appears at first blush to be more flexible, since it doesn’t depend on the price set by the PUC for all electricity, as net metering does – and market-oriented.