Monthly Archives: January 2015

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.