By Quinton Zondervan
These past two weeks CABA member businesses have been busy on Beacon Hill speaking in support of influential state legislation. Kicking off this summer strong, business leaders have testified on a number of issues, ranging from climate change readiness to solar net metering.
On Thursday, May 28th business leaders spoke before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture regarding a proposed bill for the creation of a Comprehensive Adaptation Management plan in response to climate change. The bill, better known as CAMP, would establish goals, priorities and principles to ensure the resiliency, preservation, protection, restoration and enhancement of the Commonwealth’s built and natural environment from the risks of climate change. CABA helped add provisions of vulnerability/risks to small businesses over the last legislative session. Introduced by Senator Marc Pacheco (D) reintroduced the bill this legislative session and has brought with it close to thirty co-sponsors.
In a study conducted by the American Sustainable Business Council more than 57% of small businesses had no emergency plan or climate change impact analysis. Small businesses simply do not have the human/financial resources to prepare for extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy or other large scale events, which will be caused by climate change. With this in mind CAMP would establish reports on expected impacts and vulnerability of infrastructure and the environment as a result of climate change. This would improve the security of small businesses by helping them understand the local impact that climate change would have and how they can prepare. By increasing the resiliency of infrastructure CAMP can help reduce the number of business days lost each year by reducing potential for energy grid failure and built infrastructure failure.
Susan Labandibar of Tech Networks of Boston put this in perspective at the public hearing stating: “After Hurricane Sandy 25-30% of all small businesses impacted by the storm went out of business. With this in mind, small businesses have a direct stake in the implementation of CAMP.” It is clear how this policy provides necessary measures to better understand the effects that climate change will have on small businesses of Massachusetts. It also provides adaptation measures to protect those businesses and communities most vulnerable to the effects.
At a more recent hearing on Tuesday, June 2nd, CABA representatives joined by local business owners Arne Hessenbruch of Munisight and Joseph Rotella of Spencer Organ Company testified in support of SB 1770, An Act relative to net metering, community share solar and energy storage. Messrs Hessenbruch and Rotella could not stay to deliver their testimony in person due to the fact that the hearing lasted more than 4 hours as many spoke in favor of protecting solar net metering, so their testimony was submitted in written form. SB 1770, filed by state Senator Jamie Eldridge (D) and Rep. Thomas Calter (D) emphasizes the importance of net metering as a way to continue promoting growth in the solar industry in Massachusetts. Proponents of the bill explain that the benefits of net metering are abundant for a sustainable and economically savvy Massachusetts.
Mr. Rotella shared how his investments in clean energy has truly paid off. “Right now my electricity bill is $0. Yep, zero. Because 6 years ago, my partner Aravinda Ananda and I put 56 panels on the roof of our small pipe organ restoration workshop.” When Mr. Rotella purchased his solar panels he paid significantly less than the current cost due to state credits and incentives that have since been discontinued. The uncertainty that comes with threatened subsidies and incentives in addition to a possible cap on net metering make the investment of solar panels very risky and thus less attractive to business owners and investors. This comes on the tail-end of the twilight of the federal solar incentive program ending in 2016. These two factors of uncertainty are disrupting the progress that MA has already made in terms of becoming a leader in solar.
Net metering provides that consumers who install on-site energy like solar, are compensated at the full retail price of electricity for any excess energy they deliver to the electric grid. This allows businesses and families taking part in the program to temporarily “store” excess electricity they produce using the grid as a battery. When their panels are not producing (e.g. at night) or are producing less than is needed on site (e.g. in winter), the credits can be used against drawing electricity from the grid. Net metering is unfairly and incorrectly characterized as a subsidy, but in fact it is a logical and sensible way to to match intermittent on-site solar production with overall electricity consumption by average consumers. Most residential and commercial systems produce less electricity over the course of a year than is consumed on site, and so net metering is simply a mechanism for parking electrons on the grid rather than a financial subsidy for producing electricity. For larger, community shared solar systems, the electricity is not consumed on-site but virtually net-metered to off-site off-takers. This allows people and businesses who cannot install solar on their roofs to nonetheless participate in the benefits of solar. Without net metering, on-site solar generation becomes a marginal proposition for most grid-connected consumers. Large, utility scale solar systems that would compete with wind farms or natural gas power plants should not of course be allowed to use net-metering. However, the current policy does not adequately make such distinctions, and the net metering caps currently in effect simply stifle efforts by businesses and residents to reduce their net dependence on fossil fuel energy sources.
Despite its obvious and many benefits, net metering has been received cautiously by the utilities, and the current strategy as reflected by their testimony as well as the Baker administration’s testimony at the hearing, is to complain about the costs of net-metering without fully considering the benefits. Solar advocates, utilities and the administration all agree that a long-term solution is needed that fairly compensates all parties for use and maintenance of the grid. SB 1770 provides such a long-term framework to address the region’s energy needs by encouraging the diversification of our state energy portfolio. This act also calls for the creation and implementation of an energy storage system in order to better accommodate a growing input of solar electricity into the grid. These changes come together to work towards a 20% solar by 2025 target for Massachusetts. This will be especially important as we strive to become more resilient in the face of climate change.
Local business owners who have a stake in the future of Massachusetts are stepping up to voice concerns to policy makers. Ensuring that the Commonwealth remains a leader in the implementation of clean energy policy is key economically and socially as we face a rapidly changing climate.