Senator Ben Downing delivers hopeful forecast at the State of Solar in Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts – December 15, 2016 – Senator Ben Downing spoke boldly to an audience of clean tech entrepreneurs, small business owners, legislators, and renewable energy advocates on Thursday evening. Downing was one of three expert panelists at the State of Solar in Massachusetts, an event hosted by Climate Action Business Association.
The panelists explored the complicated realities of solar policy in Massachusetts. Senator Downing explained, “States across the country are debating solar policy. We have done so each of the previous two legislative sessions and it’s clear the legislature will again in the coming year.”
At the crux of the matter is a state government struggling to pass legislation that keeps pace with the rapidly growing solar industry, resulting in confusion and stagnation. One notable policy that has stalled solar projects across the state is the cap on net metering.
The cap limits the number of financial credits entities can receive for excess solar energy that they generate. This past April, the legislature passed a solar bill that provided only a slight cap increase of 3% for both private and public sector projects. The bill also cut the rate at which commercial, low-income, and community projects receive net metering credits by 40%.
In the meantime, the Massachusetts solar incentive program, known as SREC II, reached its capacity earlier this year. The Department of Energy Resources is in the process of working with stakeholders to develop a new schedule of incentives that begins with higher level incentives and decreases over time. However, the program would likely be put in place much later into 2017.
Between the delay in legislation and the transitionary period for the solar incentive program, many solar projects throughout the state have been left uncertain until the legislature takes action. The current regulatory framework and utility model does not promote development of solar as it does for energy efficiency.
The panelists offered their expertise in how to address these challenges. Mark Hoff, Head of Outreach at Solstice Initiative, said, “Utilities and clean tech firms can work together to build a more diverse and robust energy ecosystem.” Hoff’s company works to “democratize access to clean technology through the development of community solar.” He explained that this mission “is aligned with utility objectives and business practices insofar as community solar projects in Massachusetts allow utilities to maintain their relationships with customers and often include the type of grid infrastructure investments that help to maintain the integrity of the grid.”
Kate Galbo, Policy Coordinator at Climate Action Business Association, noted, “The constantly changing policy landscape, paired with an outdated utility model, is preventing necessary movement for a growing solar market and more robust grid. With the evolution of more distributed generation and smart grid technologies, modernizing our grid is going to require a collaborative and integrated approach.”
The consensus of the night was clear: holding onto old ways and foot-dragging at each step isn’t going to cut it. The future of our energy system, in which both solar companies and utilities stand to gain, requires effective collaboration.