By Lucy Alexander
On Friday, April 24th, small business and solar industry leaders filled the Nonprofit Center in Boston, MA for a panel discussion on what is sure to be an important topic on Beacon Hill this legislative session: the State of Solar in Massachusetts. So far, Massachusetts has been a leader in promoting growth in the solar industry. It has over 750 MW of solar installed and is the nation’s second largest employer in the solar industry.
The event highlighted the many reasons why solar energy is important in both the private and public sectors. The panel featured a diverse set of stakeholders, including keynote speaker state Senator Jamie Eldridge, Bill Zamparelli, Senior Media Relations Specialist at Eversource Energy, Fred Unger, President of Heartwood Group, Leslie Malone, Senior Analyst for Energy and Climate from Acadia Center, and Larry Aller, Head of Business Development and Strategy at Next Step Living.
Senator Eldridge opened the event by remarking on the leadership Massachusetts has shown in our solar energy policies, noting that Massachusetts currently has more solar than the state of Florida. Eldridge spoke on the benefits that solar can offer all Massachusetts residents, for example that “Carlton Orchards is using solar to cut energy costs at a time when it is hard to keep farms open.” It is time to move beyond our current outdated energy infrastructure and create the climate for a new and sustainable energy future.
Massachusetts has been able to make important advances in solar due to a series policies that incentivize solar adoption, including implemented RPS standards, SRECs, and rebates. Another important part of Massachusetts’ success with solar has been its net metering program, the future of which is currently threatened by net metering caps passed by the legislature. Net metering allows eligible customers to use excess electricity they generate to offset their utility costs. It is important because it makes solar more cost competitive and accessible to residents of Massachusetts. Solar energy adoption benefits all ratepayers by increasing resiliency, decreasing reliance on harmful fossil fuels, and job creation. Malone noted that in the Acadia Center’s recent report, they found the value of solar in MA to be $.022/kwh plus $0.07/kwh social value, with West facing systems benefiting the most.
Massachusetts limits the amount of solar energy commercial properties can net meter, making it difficult to expand the solar industry. Currently, net metering is capped at 4% of peak load for private net metering and 5% for public for installations over 60 MW. National Grid, which covers almost 50% of Massachusetts cities and towns, has already reached these caps, and caps in other utility areas are quickly being approached as more and more residents take advantage of solar energy opportunities. Unger pointed out that there is no technical reason for the caps and that money is lost both by utilities and private sector stakeholders. From the perspective of utility companies, Zamparelli noted that they are not opposed to solar energy or any other renewable sources, and that they already have to meet RPS standards, which require a certain percentage of energy to come from renewable sources.
Without the option to net meter, current policy makes it much more difficult for Massachusetts businesses to take advantage of solar energy to reduce their utility bills and their carbon footprints. Net metering makes solar accessible to all residents in Massachusetts who otherwise would not be able to access solar by offering virtual net metering. Virtual net metering allows users to use net metering credits to offset their electricity bills through a remote solar project. This makes solar net metering accessible to Massachusetts residents and business who either rent or are located in areas that don’t receive enough sunlight for solar panels to operate.
“If we don’t raise the caps, we won’t have the tools to produce solar energy.”
With net metering caps already being hit, the Massachusetts legislature is faced with creating a long term plan to continue to support the already thriving solar industry here, and to continue to use solar as a way to meet our greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. Aller pointed out that “if we don’t raise the caps, we won’t have the tools to produce solar energy.” If we don’t increase the net metering caps soon, investors will move on, jobs will be lost, and overall our local economy will suffer. Instead of increasing capacity from natural gas, we should instead take advantage of renewables, especially solar.
Senator Jamie Eldridge has introduced a bill, SB1770 An Act relative to net metering, community shared solar and energy storage, not only lifts the net metering caps to 1600 MW and establishes a goal of 20% electricity generation from solar by 2020, but also calls for the creation of energy storage systems and incentivizes community shared solar projects by giving them the same tax exemptions as residents who install solar panels on their homes. As Aller stated towards the end of the panel discussion, Massachusetts legislatures care and they will listen to their constituents. It is time to step up to the opportunity and challenge presented by by solar.