Inaction on raising net metering caps and reforming the Commonwealth’s Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program has stopped construction of more than 500 solar projects valued at $617 million, which is costing cities and towns $3.2 million in annual tax revenues, according to analysis conducted by Vote Solar and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).The solar groups say that without action from the Legislature, Massachusetts can expect the number of stalled or cancelled solar projects – and related financial losses – to increase. The groups showcased the data by legislative district and by community across Massachusetts so legislators can see clearly the cost of inaction in their own backyards.
“Solar has become an integral part of the Massachusetts economy and job market,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for SEIA. “The state is leaving jobs and money on the table and ceding its place in the booming solar energy market to other states.”
“Massachusetts has been burdened with some of the highest electricity rates in the country, and affordable solar offers families, schools and public agencies a way to manage their bills and invest in our local economy at the same time,” said Sean Garren, northeast regional manager for Vote Solar. “Now the sun is setting on that tremendous solar opportunity. We need quick action from state lawmakers to raise caps on the net metering program and ensure consumers receive full credit for their valuable solar investment.”
It has been a year since restrictive caps on Massachusetts’s successful net metering program were reached in National Grid service territory. More recently caps have also been hit in Unitil and Eversource Energy territory, effectively grinding solar growth to a standstill in more than half the state. Stalled solar projects, which were intended to serve local businesses, low- and middle-income families, public agencies, nonprofit organizations and others, would have produced enough reliable solar energy to power 50,000 Massachusetts homes.
The new analysis also indicates deep impact on cities and towns that have previously not been part of the solar debate at the legislature – including in the home districts of those who can get solar back on track. For instance, in Billerica, a former landfill and Superfund site has faced a series of setbacks as it seeks to build a 6 megawatt solar plant to benefit the city and its residents.
Capped landfills, typically eyesores on the outskirts of communities, find new life as sources of clean, renewable energy for use community-wide. The towns of Amesbury, Amherst, Chelmsford, Haverhill, Needham and countless other towns are reaping the many benefits of community shared solar, but the state data shows that dozens more have been left out due to the program caps.
Prompted by falling costs, rising demand and strong state policy, the Massachusetts solar industry grew exponentially over the past few years. In 2015, Massachusetts installed 286 MW of solar electric capacity, ranking it fourth in the nation according to data from SEIA/GTM Research. A new report from Vote Solar and others shows that Massachusetts is also a national leader when it comes to solar serving low-income families, a further indication that solar is an increasingly affordable and accessible option. The state’s growing solar market supported more than 15,000 good-paying, local jobs. The net metering impasse has cast a shadow on this once-bright spot in the Massachusetts economy.
Net metering ensures that energy consumers receive full credit on their utility bills for valuable solar electricity they deliver to the grid for use nearby. In place in 44 states, this simple and fair crediting program is one of the most important state policies for empowering consumer solar adoption. Massachusetts legislators have been weighing raising the state’s net metering caps since September.
Earlier this month, 100 state lawmakers and 32 mayors and town managers called on members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to raise the net metering caps at the current retail rate, in order to avoid doing irreparable harm to the many solar projects being pursued within the state. In their letter, legislators reiterated findings from the Massachusetts Net Metering & Solar Task Force, which determined that for every dollar solar costs ratepayers, it returns $2.20 in benefits.
Solar supporters continue to call on state leaders to raise the net metering caps and reignite solar investment here in Massachusetts.