By Tim Cronin, February 14th, 2019
Last week during CABA’s Annual State of Solar event, a panel of experts evaluated where the solar industry stands in our state, and what the future looks like for this cornerstone technology of the clean energy transition. Panelists included Jess Brooks of Sunwealth, Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, and Deborah Donovan of the Acadia Center, with Allison Mond of Greentech Media moderating the discussion.
Included in the discussion of solar jobs and the new SMART program was a priority all panelists agreed should be top of mind: ensuring an equitable solar transition.
Solar in Massachusetts by the Numbers
- Massachusetts currently has installed over 2,300 MW of solar, just about 10% of the state’s total electricity consumption.
- Solar prices have fallen 43% over the past five years, and this trend is predicted to continue.
- The state’s 549 solar companies employ over 11,530 local workers.
- Massachusetts shed 11% of solar jobs, the third largest loss in the nation in 2018.
Local Policy Impacts on the Solar Landscape
With the SMART solar program finalized, we can expect a bit more predictability in local solar markets, which should provide a small boost to residential markets this year. At the same time, the declining block structure that determines solar incentives under SMART, along with net metering caps being hit across the state, will counteract any gains from less unpredictability of past solar programs.
Another big problem facing the distributed generation solar market will be reaching the next level of customers in both the residential and commercial solar markets. In terms of potential projects, the low-hanging fruit has been depleted, leaving costlier and harder to complete projects ahead. “Residential companies may have to change their marketing messages to reach this new demographic and commercial companies will need to look to new ways to assess creditworthiness for C&I customers,” says Allison Mond of Greentech Media. But she does point to a silver lining, “that said, costs will continue to decline for both modules and inverters, which will make project economics more viable for these customers.”
Expanding Equity in Solar
“Massachusetts will remain a leader in solar deployment, but one thing is clear… we must redefine what a solar industry leader looks like,” says Jess Brooks in a Sunwealth blog on the State of Solar. This means expanding who among us has easy access to solar, and the associated cost savings. As a study published in Nature Sustainability concluded, communities with over 50% residents of color have 69% less rooftop solar installed when compared with majority white communities.
Solutions that drive equity
Broadly, there are a few key methods for promoting greater equity in solar. These include:
Equitable, Intentional procurement: When crafting solar programs, policymakers and legislators can be intentional in promoting equitable solar by asking how it serves communities of non-English speakers and low-income communities. “You have to always build in intentionality because at every step along the policy process – whether that’s legislation or crafting regulations or implementation – there is always going to be this sort of discount for minority communities and low-income communities,” says Senator Chang-Díaz.
Grid modernization: Modernizing the electric grid can make it easier to shift to solar and other renewables, thus making economy-wide decarbonizing possible, while also be used to help protect more vulnerable populations. “We know the benefits of solar deployment include resiliency, contributions toward reliability, increasing the diversity of generating technologies, local employment, and economic benefits,” says Deborah Donovan. “There are also opportunities for adaptation for communities with microgrids.”
Ensuring Fair Compensation: Renters and low-moderate income residents currently do not receive a solar compensation rate equal to what is received by homeowners. Allowing these residents, who mostly live in environmental justice communities, to buy into community solar projects at a fair price, would promote greater solar access.
Some legislation & policies to watch in 2019-2020
- Solar Equity Bill: Filed by Senator Chang-Díaz and Representative Russell Holmes this year, SD.1831 and HD.3396 are a set of bills that move the needle on a number of solar equity issues. They provide for fair compensation for renters and low-moderate income community solar owners, require a mandatory equity component in all future solar programs, and encourage municipalities to share solar revenues with residents.
- Review of SMART Program: During the annual program review of SMART, state regulators should look at what is needed to get more participation from low-moderate income and EJ communities, brownfields and municipal projects which all seemed to be deprioritized under the program.
- 100% Renewable Energy bill: A set of renewable energy bills filed by Rep. Decker, Rep. Garballey, and Sen. Eldridge, HD.3092 and SD.1625) received a majority of cosponsors in both chambers. The bills establish an ambitious goal to equitably reach 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable energy for heating and transportation by 2045. Most new renewable energy would come from wind, but the bill would also further incentivize solar.
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