On Thursday, December 15th, business leaders and renewable energy advocates filled the conference hall at Prince Lobel Tye for a compelling discussion about the challenges and opportunities for solar policy in Massachusetts. The event comes just after Senate President Stanley Rosenberg outlined his legislative priorities for 2017, which focus on robust energy and climate policy. Rosenberg said he will prioritize lifting the cap on solar net metering.
The panelists explored the complicated realities of solar policy in Massachusetts. Senator Ben 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.” Among the other panelists included Paul Gromer, CEO and Founder of Peregrine Energy Group and Mark Hoff, Head of Outreach for Solstice Initiative.
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.
Paul Gromer spoke to the utility attitude towards solar energy development versus energy efficiency. While Massachusetts has made great progress in solar, much of that has been over utility opposition. The panelists offered their expertise in how to address these challenges. Mark Hoff of 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.”
The consensus of the night was clear: holding onto old ways and foot-dragging at each step isn’t going to cut it. A more streamlined policy framework will allow a decentralized, resilient grid that is able to accommodate multiple services and energy types. The future of our energy system, in which both solar companies and utilities stand to gain, requires effective collaboration.