The SMART way to kill solar in Massachusetts

Up until 2015 our state was ranked one of the highest to invest in solar energy. Then we elected a Republican Governor who received huge campaign donations from the Natural Gas industry. After gutting the Dept. of Energy Resources (DOER), and using the utility stranglehold on Net Metering, new anti-solar legislation found support in the House from Speaker DeLeo and other republicans (most with “D” after their names). Although the Senate made a valiant effort to save solar, Chapter 75 of the Acts of 2016 (click here) was passed into law in spring of 2016, giving a minor increase in amount of Net Metering, repealing SREC with a new “better” program (think republican Healthcare) called SMART … but the worst Trojan Horse implanted was to identify “net metering credits” as incentives rather than payments for electricity exported to the grid, and worse still, allow utilities to punish solar producers with a monthly minimum reliability contribution, MMRC (should they over produce or have no amount due on a month’s electric bill payment).

How the utilities killed solar is as simple as any other political tool to fool the public into believing a lie; example: get legislators to believe that electricity produced by solar has no value compared to electricity produced by fossil or nuclear energy, even though the truth is they sell PV exported solar electricity at the exact same rate to their customers. So solar electricity becomes a subsidized ratepayer expense, or in other terms, a costly incentive … after all, it’s right there on their monthly bill (never mind the utility has sold every solar kW twice). A recent conversation with Senate President Rosenberg confirmed that he believed net metering and other “solar incentives” needed to be drastically reduced so solar would be weaned off (get no payment) the back of ratepayers, and further solar owners should pay “something” for being allowed to connect to grid.

Solar growth will die because solar advocates and installers (out to make a quick buck) failed to counter-lobby the utilities and insist that solar energy, along with all renewables, has VALUE and needs to be seen as a NECESSARY replacement for fossil (including gas) fuel and nuclear power.

So what is the value of solar? Why not first find the value, then just use that value per kW to pay for it in a similar fashion as is done in Europe as a tariff? In 2015 a legislature mandated study group composed of six pro-solar and seven anti-solar (mostly utility reps) concluded after not being able to get consensus on anything else, that the State should in fact next contract through a non-biased organization a value of solar to replace net metering and SREC. The legislature never funded this study. Unfortunately, we got H4173 (now Chapter 75 of the Acts of 2016) written by and for the interests of the utilities. But we at MASOA firmly believe without such a study, such as has been done by Acadia, solar has little hope of reversing the idea solar has no value in a Trumpian world.

As solar growth dies off in the next few years, MASOA will go on the defensive. First we must stop and eliminate the MMRC. Click here to see our latest communication with the DPU. Next we need to get legislation, hopefully sponsored by the Attorney General, an amendment to Chapter 75 of the Acts of 2016 to eliminate MMRC. Then MASOA’s role in the dark years of SMART will be help those whose installations will [are] fail because of poor workmanship and faulty equipment, and find their warranty’s worthless because the quick-buck solar companies are no longer around. MASOA will advocate for solar investor consumer protection, that like General Contractors, will require solar installation licensing and a fund to help off-set losses to those who have been swindled.

Lastly, let us hope our children will succeed where we have failed in this era of Trump, Baker and DeLeo. In the meantime, join MASOA … we are always looking for board members and folks with time to help reach out to other members, and advocate support for solar to our legislators.

Does Charlie Understand That Natural Gas is a Fossil Fuel?

CharlieBakerLast week Governor Charlie Baker said the following on WGBH radio “the thing people need to remember about solar is because it’s intermittent, it won’t help us with our baseload, the turn-on-the-lights. It’s a terrific alternative for people who have the ability the resources and the assets to put it to use for their own benefit, but in terms of being something that can actually help power the grid that supports all the rest of us, day-in, day-out 24/7 365, it’s not part of the answer to that, which something like natural gas is.” (Click here for more).

While no doubt you are rightly horrified by these remarks and this incredible level of climate science denial, but just imagine being a legislator facing a certain veto of pro-growth solar legislation, unless the legislation that comes out of Senate/House Conference Committee kills solar first … which is very likely. There is also the option of doing nothing, starving solar of new Net Metering and SRECs, and forcing solar installers into bankruptcy as we saw with Next Step Living just two weeks ago, something the House and Governor seem comfortable with.

If this future is unacceptable to you, please join MassPowerForward, they will be lobbying legislators from 10 am to 2:30 pm on March 29, 2016. Come to Nurse’s Hall at the Statehouse in Boston where a member of Mass Power Forward will have materials for you. There will be an event to recognize supportive legislators in Nurse’s Hall in the Statehouse at 2:30.

Where is the cap on Fossil Fuel!

fossil-fuelRecent polling has shown that more than 80% of Massachusetts residents believe that climate change is a real concern and that we need to seriously reduce our dependence on fossil fuels … so it is a truly brilliant public relations strategy by pro-utility legislators to put solar and renewables into a rationing program like Net Metering and confusing revolving door incentive programs, while fossil fueled electricity generators get away with no quotas or even any serious penalty for poisoning our environment and threatening public health.

Our Governor recently stated that he wants to wean solar off net metering “subsidies” and reduce solar investment incentives. Solar owners need not only correct those who call net metering a “subsidy” when in fact it is a payment for green renewable energy that is sold to other utility customers, we also need to demand that it be “valued” at an established rate set by a non-biased independent study as opposed to a de-facto unsubstantiated “retail rate” … and not devalue the solar electrons whether they are generated from a residence, business, municipality, or community solar farm. Second, we need to demand that instead of capping in-state produced solar electric to the grid, the legislature should instead set a cap on the amount of fossil fuel generated and imported electricity … including hydro from Canada.

MASOA would go further to propose the Legislature reverse the damage to human health and our environment, and Massachusetts impose a cap on fossil fuels as the core of the new “Omni-Energy Bill” legislation DeLeo has been announcing since the fall of 2015. Using the COP21 Paris model, choose a past year where carbon levels were still acceptable, say 2005, and limit the fossil fuel imports to the state as a cap in terms of therms, without lifting any current restrictions on coal or oil. Beginning in 2016 reduce that amount of therms by 10% allowed under the cap. Each successive year would require continue the reduction of fossil therms by 5%. In turn the cap on renewables would not only be lifted, but the penalty [tariff] for importing fossil energy therms over the cap would fund renewable investment incentives. Renewable [solar] generated electricity would, as the Governor likes to say “mature,” so that it is valued by virtue of increasing demand.

There would be far greater positive results reversing our dependence on fossil fuels instead of reversing our progress in solar energy. It is time to institute caps on fossil fuels and remove the caps on solar now. Future buildings would be incentivized to maximize zero energy use, the demand for electric cars would increase, geo-thermal heating/cooling, solar and all renewable businesses would grow employing thousands of people. Like any addiction, fossil fuel will not be easy to turn away from, especially with the street price so low, however we are rational beings, we have created government to guide us … now is the time to legislate us on a path to a clean energy future and a sustainable environment.

Allowing Net Metering to be called a “Subsidy” will kill solar

tgoldenLegislators (like House Co-Chair Golden of TUE pictured) and news reporters make the mistake of calling Net Metering, the payment for solar produced electricity, a subsidy. The truth is when it comes to solar net metering, utilities get paid twice … once when they sell it to an abutter of a solar producer, and second as a fee on every ratepayer’s electric bill. Even to this day that fee is one-fourth the fee they levy for conservation programs, but that isn’t the point … utilities would like you to believe that solar generated electrons have no value, hence the ridiculous statement by NGRID that “solar” will cost them $1.5 billion from now to 2020.

But that is no where near the truth, and what our utilities fear most is that an actual and objective value of solar study (VOS), as suggest recently by the state Solar Task Force, will show what a bargain solar electric is when paid for at the so-called “Retail” rate (±.17 per kWh). Last year in Maine a VOS study found solar generated electricity is worth around .36 per kWh. A recent study by ACADIA found for Massachusetts that solar kWh was worth between .29 and .35 (click here) before consideration of environmental benefits. In fact utilities get solar electricity not only at a bargain rate currently, but also get it at peak demand times when utilities must pay as much as .60 kWh on the ISO spot market.

The recent House rewriting of S1979, not unlike the Governor’s propose bill H3724, is cleverly written legislation so that it appears to lift net metering a few more percentages of capacity in trade for giving the utilities an even greater bargain for solar electric power — reducing payment to be the same as the lowest wholesale price they pay for coal electric generation, or around .03 to .07 per kWh. This bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, with the intent to cripple solar electric growth by the end of 2016, so that we become fully reliant on yet another non-renewable energy source – gas. Why gas … because most utilities also own and control gas supply and distribution in addition to the distribution of electricity.

Help our legislators understand the truth. Solar electricity is not subsidized, net metering is payment for generated electricity, and at the current rate it is a bargain especially when you consider the damage fossil fuels (and that includes natural gas) is doing to our health and environment. Tell Speaker DeLeo, Ways & Means Chair Dempsey, and TUE Co-Chair Golden (current House reps on the solar energy conference committee), “lift the cap on solar NOW, this state can’t continue to lose 10 jobs every day, and our planet and children need all of us to do the right thing for their future.”

Finally ask our House Representatives to consider if the utilities say solar is so bad and hurts the low-income ratepayer … why is it they wrote into S1979 that they [the utilities] can install over 35 Megawatts of solar electric for themselves, for the profit for their shareholders, and cost to ratepayers … all while sabotaging solar investment by the private and public [municipal] investors?

Gov. uncaps Net Metering, but will it kill solar growth?

171communitiesThis week Baker Administration announced new solar policy legislation in the wake of Speaker DeLeo sending S1979 off to Ways & Means where it is likely to strip out the Senate Net Metering amendment and focus on climate change issues. Titled “AN ACT RELATIVE TO A LONG-TERM, SUSTAINABLE SOLAR INDUSTRY” (click here) this proposal will lift the Net Meter Cap until 1600 mega-watts of solar is achieved, essentially another 2 to 3%, (keeping solar PV below 10% of electric use) after which the Republican appointed Dept. of Public Utilities (DPU) will determine future capacity. The multi-billion dollar question is at what price?

This Legislation is full of generalizations and unknowns, written intentionally to confuse even the most knowledgeable solar stakeholder. Here are a few examples:

  • DPU to design a solar program that is “stable, equitable, and self-sustaining solar market at a reasonable cost to ratepayers. (Yet we still give fossil fuels subsidies and incentives like new pipelines at the cost to ratepayers just mention one).
  • DPU will “ensure that the costs of the program are shared collectively among all ratepayers of the distribution companies” (Minimum Bill?).
  • DPU “may establish a separate incentive program for non-solar photovoltaic generation units eligible under the renewable portfolio standard.” (So imported gas and hydro can kill future solar and wind?)

The Net Metering of today that is the retail basic rate supply + distribution (around .18 per kW) will become “Market-based net metering credit” the “average monthly energy clearing price in the ISO-NE zone in which the net metering facility is located” or the cheapest wholesale rate … so watch your net meter value drop to .03 to .04 per kW, unless you install muni, community, or low income, then they “shall receive a credit equal to the basic service kilowatt-hour charge in the ISO-NE load zone” or about .07 to .09. So while it is true Net Metering will be uncapped (up to 1600 MW), all of solar PV will see a dramatic loss in Net Meter revenue as there is no provision to grandfather existing systems … and if you have a small 1 to 5 kW system, the new minimum bill may actually cost you to have installed solar. Or as the utilities would say, make solar self-sustaining.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is the future of incentives like RECs and SRECs. All that is said is that the DPU “shall set forth provisions in its regulations specifying that the program implemented in accordance with paragraph (a), which reads: “take into account other incentives, credits, or revenue available to developers and owners of different classes of projects.” Try taking that to the bank.

Tell Speaker DeLeo to let House vote on Net Meter Cap!

DeLeoThe State Senate has voted unanimously to amend S1979 (click here) to lift the cap on Net Metering up to 1600MW, improve and protect Community Shared Solar, and to plan for future solar policies after December 31, 2016. BUT Speaker DeLeo, like Governor Baker, believes that not raising the Net Meter Cap will not have any negative effect on the growth of solar installations despite the fact that NGRID has shut down solar projects in 171 communities in their service territories; even despite numerous emails, phone calls, letters and newspaper/TV stories clearly and factually state they are plain wrong. If the cap is not lifted or at bare minimum, increased, solar installations will grind to a halt in the next six months. Since June it is estimated that 15 solar industry workers are getting laid off daily, and if DeLeo and Baker get their way, state solar companies, both small and large, will face bankruptcy … not because of lack of work, but because legislators are doing the bidding of utility corporate donors instead of what is best for our state workers, renewable energy and our environment.

If you are reading this, we need your help NOW! Send an email, or better still make a phone call to tell Speaker DeLeo to allow the House to vote on S1973 before July 30th, here is his email:, his phone in boston: 617-722-2500, his phone in Revere: 781-289-8965. Call daily and email often.

Also, do not forget to tell your local representative (click here) that we want them to vote in favor of S1979, and to ask DeLeo to present bill S1979 for a vote before July 30, 2015.

Awaiting The Next Bad Utility Sponsored Solar Legislation

MAS-poster-v1-A-page-001On 4/30/15 the Solar Task Force completed their final report (click here) … no one was surprised that the mostly utility favored membership decided solar energy growth should be slowed, and incentives reduced. In the Preface, Angie O’Connor, Baker appointee to DPU, states “the Administration does not support raising the net metering caps in the short term absent a long term sustainable solution. Rather, we believe it is extremely important that any adjustments to the caps be accompanied by meaningful changes to the mix of incentives and proper consideration of the role of the ratepayers.” As predicted, the utilities plan to extort the solar industry into supporting their own demise through excepting declining incentives and constricted growth while paving the illusion of ratepayer protection by constructing new gas pipelines to LGN seaports bound for Europe.

Unlike last year when utilities recruited large out-of-state solar installers, angry with SRECII, to turn on in-state solar through legislation H4185, they are now relying on the new Republican Governor (Gas utilities were Baker’s 2nd largest campaign contributor), DPU and DOER to finally take control of future and current solar incentives. Since last fall new solar alliances have been created through Mass Solar (click here) and Mass Solar Coalition bringing together both large and small solar installers, along with numerous environmental and anti-pipeline groups. With Net Metering Caps holding solar growth hostage, most notably in NGRID territory, there is compelling need to develop new solar legislation ahead of the utilities to get legislator’s early support. MASOA supports Next Generation MA Solar Principles and Policy (click here – Summary click here) by Mark LeBel of the Acadia Center … we strongly hope these policy proposals will be incorporated into current bills H2852 and S1770 to be discussed publicly on June 2nd at 1 pm in the State House Gardener Auditorium – please plan to attend if you can!

7 Shades of H4185 – Anti-Solar Growth Policy Unveiled

header-sealWith a month to go, the Net Meter / Solar Task Force came to Holyoke Community College on February 25th to hear public opinion on the seven policy “paths” proposed by pro-utility consultants (click here). More than a third of the Task Force members were no-shows, sending alternates instead. Not one consultant representative was present to answer questions or defend their proposals that like failed legislation H4185 from last year, will reverse the progress solar growth has achieved in the last few years.

MASOA chair, Christopher Smith, read and submitted our association response (click here) and MASOA’s support (along with Mass Solar Group) for alternative solar policies titled “Fair Solar Policy Framework” written by Fred Uger (click here), as well as proposals submitted by Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT – click here). It is worth noting that all 25+ speakers representing solar, small business, low income, environmental, clergy and more all spoke against the Task Force proposals, including an end to holding Net Metering capacity hostage preventing future solar PV growth.

We should not be surprised by the consultant’s proposals given that almost all the Task Force members are from utilities or friendly to their business plan that seeks to sideline solar PV in favor of replacing coal and oil with natural gas. The Governor reaffirmed this plan on Feb. 28th calling for numerous new gas pipelines despite public objection. In fact many have suggested that the real purpose of the proposed “Minimum Bill” is to provide millions of dollars to capitalize the new pipeline projects. And while the utilities will promote the need for these pipelines to reduce the burden on ratepayers, the truth will soon be revealed that the real goal is to ship liquefied gas to other countries at the expense of the ratepayer. Join MASOA (click here) and help us get the truth understood by our legislators!

New Solar Bills – Baker Balances

StateHouseWith Net Metering caps soon to be reached and the Solar Task Force far behind schedule, two solar bills have come forward to increase capacity now. The first An Act Relative to Net Metering (S869 and H2050), filed by Senator Anthony Petrucelli and Representative Frank Smizik will increase capacity a mere 2% for the public sector, 1% for the private sector, and is endorsed by the so-called grassroots “Mass Solar Coalition” (click here) which is made up mostly of former sponsors of H4185 (legislation MASOA helped defeat last year). Sadly we feel this proposed legislation falls short of its intent of allowing enough time to craft the best possible new future solar policies, so MASOA does not endorse this legislation except as a last resort.

The far better solution comes from Thomas Calter (Plymouth) and Paul Mark (Berkshire) H2297 (click here) in the House, and James Eldridge (Worcester) S1616 in the Senate (identical bills). The first of five sections calls for the state to produce 20% of electricity with renewables by end of 2025. Section two would increase the solar Net Meter Cap to 1600 megawatts (Gov. Patrick’s goal for 2020). Section four introduces the idea of developing an energy storage program. “This program shall be designed to enable cost effective energy storage systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce demand for peak electrical generation, defer or substitute for an investment in distribution or transmission assets, provide back-up or emergency power, ancillary services, or improve the reliable operation of the distribution grid.” Section five further supports Community Shared Solar Systems by giving individual owners the same tax and net metering benefits as if the solar installation was on their own property, provided the individual owner is limited to 25 kW and/or 125% of their annual electric use.

While far from a comprehensive solution to the future of solar and renewable energy growth, MASOA strongly supports these bills as they address for now the Net Metering capacity issue that has been the leverage used by utilities to try to force solar development into accepting a carrot along with by a very large stick (as was done with H4185 last July). MASOA encourages you to ask your senator/representatives to sponsor and support H2297 & S1616.

Governor Baker Presents Balanced Energy Plan?

We have not heard much about how the Baker Administration will approach the state energy issues until a Boston Globe article (click here) from Jan. 27th. Like Obama, Baker has an all-energy-sources approach that focuses on affordability first and environmental consequences second. The plan as outlined would be to increase fracked gas supply pipelines “while creating the space for renewables to thrive.” No doubt we will learn more about this plan and how the billions of dollars of new gas pipelines will be subsidized as the new positions in the Dept. of Energy Resources (DOER) are filled in the coming few months.

Lastly, please consider joining MASOA (click here) … watch this website for more solar policy news.

2014 Lessons for Solar 2015 Policy

meg-lusardiMASOA began January 2014 believing that DOER was guiding the future for state solar growth by making the final adjustments to the SREC2 program, such as determining the final factor levels for “Managed Growth,” rules for Community Solar, and ending the front end Commonwealth Solar II incentive program. We supported the idea of a low interest solar loan program (now available – click here), and consumer protections for solar investment, especially with regard to solar leasing with little to no upfront cost. While we shared DOER concern about large out-of-state solar companies taking jobs and revenue out of Massachusetts, MASOA voiced concern that the proposed “Managed Growth” was too severe by restricting where large solar could develop and limiting the SREC to 70% of market value.

What we did not know was DOER was meeting secretly with large solar (SEIA, Vote Solar, NECEC) and electric utilities to rewrite the future of solar using the ALEC political playbook. DOER agreed to eliminate Managed Growth and remove caps on new net metering, in trade, utilities would gain control of future solar incentives via a new program called “Declining Block” along with limiting the size of Class 1 solar installations and cutting by more than 50% the value of Virtual Net Metering. For utilities the crown jewel was to require that solar owners pay a minimum bill that was designed to turn the rate payers against future solar growth and blame solar for increased rate costs. This was not a minor adjustment to solar policy, this was a complete overhaul, and solar organizations such as SEBANE and MASOA were purposely not allowed to comment when DOER sent the legislation to the state house in June 2014 to become House Bill 4185, giving us only a month to act before it would be voted on July 30th at the end of the legislative session. During this time MASOA strongly advocated legislators to just “Raise the [Net Metering] Cap.” Fortunately solar had an old friend in Rep. Kulik who was able to keep H4185 from leaving the Ways and Means Committee, thus avoiding a chance it would pass due to enormous lobbying efforts by big solar and utilities.

While we succeeded in getting a minor Net Metering Cap increase, the utilities and big solar did manage to legislate that a Solar Task Force (STF) be created with basically only their interests represented once again (although SEBANE did manage to snag one of seventeen seats at the table). As of the first week in January, STF has met three times, and accomplished little other than to seek public comment concerning future solar policy (click here for MASOA response). With a target date of March 30 to propose new solar legislation, time is running short, further challenged by the leaving of DOER and STF co-chairs Lusardi and McKeever. Once again the legislation to raise both public and private Net Meter Caps is already being considered, thus the Baker administration may wait to next year when Federal incentives begin to end to again look at solar policy changes.

MASOA 2015 Goals and Mission:

If 2014 taught us anything it is to be vigilant that political deception is very much a reality. However, we can take comfort that as John Ward aptly stated last June … “it is a lot harder to pass a bill than to stop one.” MASOA is not alone in this vigilance, beginning last August Russ Aney (SEBANE) and Emily Rochon (BCC) began a Google Mass Solar Group which is a forum open to all solar stakeholders to share views and information, watch for monthly summaries on this web page. Future solar policy is too important to be rushed, or to serve just the best interests of the electric utilities, so this is why our #1 priority should be to once again “Just Raise the Net Meter Cap” in 2015 – and not by a mere 1% or 2%.

Now that MASOA has an elected Board (see Administration), we will begin the next steps to formalize and grow our membership. As a member we want you to participate in your organization. We want to hear from you and your ideas, whether they are about the website, local solar zoning, community solar legislation, etc.