Maine discusses legislation that would purchase the state’s two investor owned utilities (IOUs) and move instead toward a customer-owned utility model. Meanwhile Chicago explores municipalization.

Credit: Flickr user 10 10

By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive, March 18, 2019

  • Maine lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill to eliminate gross metering in the state and reestablish net metering for solar customers, sending it to Gov. Janet Mills, D, for likely signature.
  • The bill restores “decades old policy of net metering” which was “rolled back in a very awkward fashion” under the previous administration, said State Rep. Seth Berry, D, the legislation’s primary sponsor. It passed the House 93-48 Thursday after approval from the Senate earlier in the week. 
  • Upcoming energy legislation will likely aim to boost the state’s renewable portfolio standard, move forward with offshore wind and lower barriers to solar deployment, Berry told Utility Dive. There are also discussions around legislation that would purchase the state’s two investor owned utilities (IOUs) and move instead toward a customer-owned utility model, he said.

The elimination of gross metering in Maine marks a shift in legislative priorities for the state, which clean energy advocates say has struggled through eight years of inaction or rollbacks on renewable power policy. 

LD 91 reestablishes retail rate net metering, which credits rooftop solar customers for the energy they supply to the grid, benefiting those customers and encouraging deployment of the resource.

“LD 91 is not a solution in and of itself. It is simply a re-correction in the near term,” Vaughan Woodruff, president of solar installer Insource Renewables, told Utility Dive. “We are a state that has significant economic development challenges and we have really missed the boat thus far on the economic development opportunity of solar.”

Last month, Mills signed an executive order ending a wind moratorium that had been put in place by former Gov. Paul LePage, R. Clean energy was a major component of Gov. Mills’ campaign and contention over solar policy “was a big part” of the state’s Democratic sweep that took over the governor’s seat and both chambers of the legislature, according to Berry.

“There was a lot of frustration from many parts of the ideological spectrum about the policy of gross metering and the anti-renewable policies that had been a prevalent under the last administration for the last eight years or so,” he said.

The distributed solar legislation “is only the beginning,” Berry said. Between lack of customer choice and barriers to clean energy deployment, the state has a lot of policy considerations in play.

Moving forward, legislation will focus on lifting those “arbitrary barriers” to solar deployment, particularly for commercial investment, said Woodruff, who was involved in policy discussions crafting LD 91.

“Hanging out with folks in California, they’re like on graduate level solar policy. It feels like at times we’re still in the sandbox eating crayons. And so I feel like this will give us the opportunity to really sit down and be thoughtful” he said.

Another consideration is ensuring ratepayers are given more diversity and choice when it comes to generating power, said Berry. 

“Mainers really liked the idea of being able to generate our own power,” he said. “And the utilities have really stood in the way of efficiency and distributed resources for decades now. So there’s been a long build up of a frustration with that.”

One avenue of protecting ratepayers would be a dramatic shift to the state’s current utility model: Maine would buy both IOUs, moving toward a consumer-owned utility instead.

While language hasn’t been written, Berry said conversations among major stakeholders, including commercial and industrial ratepayers, utility workers and ratepayer organizations indicate support for the concept.

“It’s a heavy lift,” said Woodruff. “If that bill passes and we forced the sale of the investor owned utilities in the state of Maine, it would be one of the most shocking things to see in a single legislative session in Augusta, related to energy, that I’ve seen in my time there.

“It’s coming faster than I expected,” he added. “It’s something that a number of us have been talking about for a while and I’m pleased to see it brought to the table so people can consider other options that are out there.”

Another potential shift to the utility model in the state would be to move away from quantity-based rates, toward a more reliability-based metric, said Woodruff.

“The days of the one monolithic utility that delivered power in one direction from far distance centralized generation sources is a dinosaur,” said Berry. “It’s a relic of the late 19th, early 20th century. And we’re ready to move beyond that.”

UTILITY DIVE Maine governor ends wind moratorium as lawmakers tee up net metering return

Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy
July 24, 2019 City Council Meeting


WHEREAS, Ordinance and Agreement Between the City of Chicago and Commonwealth Edison Company (“ComEd”) effective January 1,1992 (“the Franchise Agreement”) formally expires on December 31, 2020 thus requiring its extension or renegotiation of the franchise; and,

WHEREAS, the looming expiration of the Franchise Agreement is the first opportunity in 30 years for the City to fundamentally renegotiate the future of its utility services and energy policy; and,

WHEREAS, Section 5 of the Franchise Agreement, and the Illinois Municipal Code (65 111. Comp. Stat. 5/11-117-1), permits municipal acquisition of the utility facilities of ComEd at any time during the term of agreement, upon one year’s written demand by the City; and,

WHEREAS, the Franchise Agreement stipulates that a municipal acquisition of the utility is subject to a maximum consideration equal to ComEd’s investment in Utility Facilities, and a minimum consideration equal to the difference between ComEd’s investment in Utility Facilities and depreciation reserve; and,

WHEREAS, the Franchise Agreement provides for right of access to ComEd’s books of account, where ComEd shall permit the City to inspect or review its books, accounts, correspondence, documents and data for any proper purpose; and,

WHEREAS, ComEd is the designated utility licensee that operates at the behest and the pleasure of the City of Chicago and its continued franchise is contingent on the approval of this body; and,

WHEREAS, ComEd has not shown a universal commitment to cooperative partnership with the City of Chicago nor taken sufficient action to address environmental, efficiency, and equity concerns; and,

WHEREAS, municipal utilities are a common and successful form of electric power provision across the nation, such as in cities like Austin, TX, Chattanooga, TN, and Omaha, NE, along with numerous communities within the State of Illinois; and,

WHEREAS, the City Council of Chicago has demonstrated its commitment to decisive environmental action, efficient governance, and equitable policies benefiting all Chicagoans; and,

WHEREAS, the City Council of Chicago, on behalf of all its constituents, has an obligation to investigate all possible alternatives to the existing arrangements to provide superior energy delivery while addressing broader equity and environmental concerns; therefore,

NOW BE IT ORDERED, the Department of Fleet & Facilities Management shall commission a municipalization feasibility study to explore alternative options to the existing franchise arrangement. This feasibility study shall include full municipalization of ComEd’s utility facilities, as specified by Section 5 of the Franchise Agreement, and an analysis of the socioeconomic, financial, and environmental impacts of each possible alternative. The study shall be conducted by an expert third-party to be completed and
delivered to City Council no later than December 1, 2019; and,

NOW BE IT ORDERED, the City of Chicago and its appropriate department(s) shall review ComEd’s books, accounts, correspondence, documents and data, as enabled by the Franchise Agreement, to the extent that is necessary to gather any and all necessary information about ComEd, including but not limited to its operations, assets, and finances, that the City may require to inform and conduct the full exploration of options surrounding the succession of the existing Franchise Agreement.

File #: Or2019-272, Version: 1, Office of the City Clerk Page 1 of 1 Printed on 7/25/2019, powered by Legistar™