No doubt many of you participated in the largest Climate March in NYC on Sept. 21st attended by over 300,000 diverse environmental and renewable energy groups. It became obvious early on that the March organizers had not planned for so many of us, but it seemed the police were … I have never seen so many police officers and barricades. It is unclear why the march that was to begin at 11:30 did not begin until 2:30, or why the barricades separated those marching from the many booths set up on the Central Park sidewalk forcing those of us to go into the park to access the booths or other march groups. At the end many said they felt the March lacked leadership and a strong political message, although several politicians and actors were spotted within the march.
The last days of July were very nerve racking as it remained unclear whether an an even worse amended version of H4185 (click here) would come out of Ways & Means, or whether a simple Net Metering Cap increase amendment would surface, and with luck, replace H4185 and all the damage to the state solar industry it would bring. Many brave legislators withstood the lobbying pressures of the utilities and large-out-of-state solar investors and in the waning hours of July 31st chose to “Just Raise the Cap” by amending H4385 to raise the Net Meter Cap 1% for the private sector, and 2% for the public sector, assuring numerous stalled projects to go ahead (click here).
A little over an hour into a meeting with Representative Kulik on July 7th, answering his questions and giving him a presentation on MASOA’s five amendment proposals to fix and correct H4185 (click here), he made this simple, yet perfect suggestion, “if the one issue that we can all agree on is that the Net Metering capacity needs to be increased to insure that solar PV growth in Massachusetts is not disrupted, then why not add an amendment to another bill (like the Environmental Bond Bill) to do just that.” This would take the pressure off the Ways & Means Committee to try and fix H4185, and still send it flawed and full of incomplete changes to the House for a vote. With the insurance of Net Metering being addressed as an add-on to another bill that is likely to pass in both houses, the changes and proposals in H4185 can go back to the DOER where the Mass. Solar Stakeholders who were denied input and opinion can do so in a transparent and democratic method not unlike the process to enact SRECII just this past April.
Question to Legislators: The new bill H4185 has been called the “Net Meter Compromise Bill” by the DOER and utility friendly media … we disagree! Our question, dear state legislators, if H4185 is truly a compromise between utilities and the solar/environmentalists, why was it drafted in secret solely by the utilities and utility sponsored out-of-state solar organizations who represent only 2% of state solar stakeholders and owners? Now we see this special interest legislation railroaded through the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy from the DOER with no public input or input from local or state organizations such as SEBANE or MASOA, for this reason alone H4185 should never have left the JCTUE for consideration by Ways & Means. So far every opportunity to speak on behalf of the rest of the 98% of the solar industry and owners has been blocked. Just yesterday (6/19/14) a closed legislative hearing on H4185 was presented by the utilities and DOER. It was open only to legislators, and prohibited to public attendance or input. Again we ask you, dear legislator, if this legislation is really going to benefit the future of solar in our state, not just the utilities and their allies, why are these hearings blocked to the majority of the solar owners/industry and the public? What do the utilities fear we, the solar stakeholder will tell you about H4185?
No doubt, you, like most other solar owners, are wondering how could the Patrick Administration and DOER have allowed the utilities to takeover the future of solar PV. There is no question the “Compromise Net Metering Bill,” must be stopped or significantly altered. It is sad to report that the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy voted with little or no discussion to approved the Utility & DOER collaboration, have sent it on to Ways & Means for additional review. Again make no mistake this legislation will negatively effect every solar owner. MASOA stands against this bill now numbered H4185 (click here for full bill text) for the following reasons, and ask everyone reading this to write their legislators to protest both the content and the process used to railroad it through the legislature for the benefit of the utilities:
- Solar owners and the local photovoltaic installers industry and other sectors were excluded from the closed-door discussions that produced this bill.
- The “Compromise Bill” is not a compromise but rather a secret sweetheart deal between the utilities, utility favored (and sponsored) solar organizations and DOER.
- The pace at which the “Compromise Bill” is being moved through disregards the ability for all stakeholders to adequately comment and make revisions.
In a surprise move, the DOER recently sat down with two utilities, NU and NGRID and two utility sponsored solar associations, SEIA and NECEC, to draft what has been titled “Compromise Net Meter Legislation” (click here). To date there is no sponsor or a bill number in either house, but what is clear is that the future of solar PV ownership incentives will be under the control of the utilities who have historically made every effort to kill solar at every opportunity, recently quoted calling solar PV owners “free-loaders” in the Boston Business Journal.
What is important to understand at this time (June 10) is that hopefully this terrible legislation will not be introduced to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee (JCTUE) by June 15 in order to be considered for vote this summer. So we are asking everyone to support S2019 / H3901 (click here) and send emails, phone calls, letters ASAP, to learn more click here.
When the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) issued its’ Model Solar Guide (click here) and Model Solar Zoning Bylaw (click here) it was meant to help towns achieve reasonable regulations for compliance with state law 40A Section 3 that reads as follows: No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.
Many towns have passed solar bylaws the Attorney General’s (AG) office approved, sometimes with cautions. For a list of these towns click here and look for “Bylaw Type.” All the towns that have received AG approval with cautions have adopted very restrictive solar zoning bylaws that do not conform to the DOER suggested models. Many of these towns actually do prohibit solar development. Marion prohibits solar that can be seen from land or water. Lincoln prohibits solar energy that is sold (net metered). Your town may be composing or voting on Solar by-laws to submit to the Municipal Law Unit of the AG’s office for approval.
MASOA urges you to get active in your town and support the DOER model by-laws.
Considering that our Governor is such a huge supporter of solar energy you would think our Attorney General would be as well, especially with the state law 40A Section 3 that reads as follows: No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare. When asked Ms. Coakley refused to answer why the Ag approved anti-solar bylaws and deferred it to Margaret Hurley, Dir. of Municipal Law Unit. Ms. Hurley responded by saying the AG has limited power to disapprove local zoning, “[i]t is fundamental that every presumption is to be made in favor of the validity of municipal by-laws.” Adding “we regularly include a caution in our solar by-law decisions along the following lines: General Laws Chapter 40A, § 3 protects solar energy systems and the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy … there are no court decisions to guide the Town and this Office in determining what qualifies as an unreasonable regulation of solar uses in contravention of G.L. c. 40A, § 3. However, the Town should be mindful of this requirement in applying [the zoning by-law] and consult closely with Town Counsel during the process.”
In the last few months’ solar PV growth has been under attack from a variety of sources beginning with the DOER whose new proposed legislation is designed to severely slow new solar growth through proposed changes in the SREC2 program (members see more on this at “Member Pages”). Now it is Net Metering that is facing new proposed legislation designed to restrict new solar growth, and would require current Net Metering participants to pay fees to continue to receive net metering credit. Senator Rodrigues has filed bill S2030 under the misleading title “An act reducing the cost of solar power through increased competition.” Those of you who are familiar with the Orwellian term doublespeak will understand after reading this proposed legislation that the reduction of cost of solar energy means the elimination of solar net meter incentives and the reference of increased competition actually means allowing fossil fuels to again be the utilities dominate energy source unfettered by Net Metering or REC/SREC pollution penalties. Another bill S2019, while far from what MASOA would like to see, keeps Net Metering capacity open for two years until such time a “committee” determines new percentage caps (members can see full versions of these bills and MASOA response). A Senate/House joint committee begins review of both bills March 11th. MASOA encourages all solar owners to contact their senators and representatives to stand up against the utilities attempt to end Net Metering. MAKE NO MISTAKE … if you own solar, this new legislation affects YOU! Now is the time to join MASOA (click here), with your support we can keep solar growing in Massachusetts.
After beginning our new member campaign in earnest in December 2013 we are getting new sign ups every week and we are well on the way to getting the required membership to go the next phase of becoming a non-profit organization. So if you have been saying to yourself, I really should join MASOA, this would be a great time to go ahead and become a member. It is truly easy, just click on membership from our home page, go to Member levels and click, the rest takes less than five minutes including payment by PayPal.
On January 24th Founders John Livermore and Tom Thompson along with Interim Treasurer, Chris Kilfoyle and Secretary, Chris Smith attended a hearing at the State House on proposed new SRECII regulations. Mr. Smith voiced MASOA overview of proposed changes and submitted more detailed remarks to the DOER. In summary MASOA is very concerned that overall the amount of solar growth will decline drastically undermining the Governor’s goal of 1600 MW by 2020. The proposed changes will only encourage unregulated solar leasing by out-of-state large capital investors as Commonwealth Solar incentives end in June 2014 and threaten the future of small solar installers and solar ownership in Massachusetts. As a member you may read these issues in full in our January member newsletter.