The path to an equitable solar incentive program for Massachusetts
The Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program — a tariff program that provides financial incentives for the development of solar — is finally on track to receive a long-awaited update. After many months of delay, the process at the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is underway.
Some aspects of the proposal are positive and will make a marked difference in the lives of Bay Staters. For example, the program has been expanded by 1,600 megawatts, allowing stalled solar projects to move forward. In addition, Eversource has proposed the Eversource Community Solar Access Program (ECSAP), which would help low-income customers reap the rewards of community solar.
However, when it comes to a program as influential as SMART, it’s critical to get it right. The revisions will, in large part, determine the future of solar energy development in the Commonwealth. We need the strongest, most equitable SMART program possible, and some of the utilities’ proposals don’t yet meet that standard.
I recently had the opportunity to provide written testimony to the DPU on behalf of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). In it, I outlined our concerns with the proposed revisions and our recommendations for improvement:
- Like Eversource, National Grid has also proposed a community solar program. The major difference is that National Grid’s programs would reduce benefits for low-income customers by charging two different fees in order to participate. We believe this proposal should be rejected by DPU, as it creates needless barriers to solar access for underserved customers.
- Under the utilities’ proposal, community solar projects would receive special benefits for participating in utility-marketed programs. Essentially, the utilities would change the compensation framework to ensure that projects using utility programs would receive a more stable revenue stream. DPU must reject this proposal and ensure that all solar projects are placed on a level playing field.
- The electric utilities propose extreme limitations on energy storage that is direct current (DC) coupled with solar. DC-coupling results in a more efficient system with greater environmental benefits. We recommend these limits be lifted to allow for greater efficiency.
- The current proposal would reduce customer compensation if they don’t use 100% of the solar energy they produce within a year. We recommend reducing this threshold to 90%, to be in compliance with the Department of Energy Resources statutes.
Now that DPU has heard from me and other expert witnesses, it’s important that they also hear from ratepayers. Currently, I’m collecting comments from the public that I’ll submit to DPU on your behalf. Simply fill out our form and tell DPU why you want a SMART program that benefits everyone.
We’re expecting DPU to make a decision on the proposed revisions in 2022. In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep you updated on our work toward a clean energy economy that helps all Bay State residents thrive.