Continuing the push for equitable solar incentives in the Bay State

Last week, I wrapped up hours of testimony before the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) on revisions to the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program — a tariff that provides financial incentives for the development of solar. 

More than 60 Vote Solar members filed public comments with the DPU calling for a program that meets the needs of low-income and overburdened communities across Massachusetts. Our members called on DPU to remove unnecessary barriers to solar adoption, including superfluous fees and limitations on energy storage. 

During my time on the stand, I had the opportunity to expand on elements of the written testimony I submitted on behalf of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). I spent a fair amount of time discussing the Climate Act, which was signed into law earlier this year. The utilities have recommended that the DPU not take the Climate Act into consideration when deliberating on this regulatory docket — essentially acting as though the law doesn’t exist. I strongly disagree. The Climate Act is the law of the land, and SMART must comply. 

Another point of contention arose when my impartiality as an expert witness was challenged. The utilities asked which solar companies I worked with in preparing my testimony, and who “approved” it. As I explained to them, Vote Solar is an independent nonprofit, and not a trade organization. While it’s standard practice to collaborate with other parties and organizations in regulatory proceedings — in this case, I worked with low-income advocates, electric utility Eversource, and solar installers — my testimony is mine alone. 

In addition to my own cross-examination, our coalition had the chance to question the utilities. A primary area of focus was updates to the program’s Payment/Credit Form, which is used to allocate bill credits for community solar projects. I’ve testified that the DPU should allow monthly updates to the form, rather than the current allowance of twice per year, and was glad our lawyer had the opportunity to press the issue. In New York, the utility company National Grid has been providing monthly updates since 2015. Through the cross-examination, we learned that utility company National Grid was able to allow monthly updates in New York within one month of the regulator directing them to do so. Furthermore, National Grid uses the same billing system in New York and Massachusetts. Nonetheless, National Grid testified that they are not able to allow monthly updates to the Payment/Credit Form. It was also revealed that the utilities don’t currently follow any consistent rules or practices when it comes to form updates. 

Finally, the utilities were questioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO), the entity who acts as an advocate for ratepayers. The AGO focused on the utilities’ proposed limitations on energy storage that is direct current (DC) coupled with solar. DC-coupling results in a more efficient system with greater environmental benefits, and I’ve testified that the utilities should not be able to restrict charging on energy storage. The utilities claim that these extreme limits are necessary to keep costs low for ratepayers, and I was encouraged that the AGO pushed back against this premise. 

Now that DPU has heard from expert witnesses and the public, we’re expecting a decision on the proposed revisions in 2022. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who took the time to craft a public comment. These revisions will, in large part, determine the future of solar energy development in the Commonwealth, and it’s critical we get it right. The ratepayer perspective is critical in making that happen. 

Stay tuned for additional updates from our team on our efforts to build a SMART program that works for everyone!

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