The Price of the Massachusetts Solar Impasse
It has been a year since an unnecessary cap on one of our most important solar programs—net metering—started slamming the brakes on solar projects across Massachusetts. That’s an entire year of lost jobs, missed consumer savings and stalled renewable energy progress. And along with our friends at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), we released a report that puts a price tag on that missed solar opportunity.
Net metering inaction has halted construction of more than 500 solar projects in communities across Massachusetts. The 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. In total, these projects are valued at $617 million, and that lost investment is costing cities and towns $3.2 million in annual tax revenues. We’ve broken that data down by district and city level to show the cost of inaction for each community. See the summaries for yourself at: seia.org/keepsolarworking
This analysis 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. Without action from the State Legislature, Massachusetts can expect the number of stalled or cancelled solar projects—and related financial losses—to increase.
Prompted by falling costs, rising demand and strong state policy, the Massachusetts solar industry had grown 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. Our new Low-Income Solar Policy Guide 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. But now 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. But Massachusetts law places caps on net metering participation, beyond which the utilities are no longer required to provide net metering credit to its customers. The restrictive caps have now been reached in National Grid, Unitil and Eversource Energy service territories, effectively grinding solar growth to a standstill in much of the state. 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.
Massachusetts is 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. 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.
Along with industry associations, workers, environmental organizations, and local government leaders, we continue to call on state lawmakers to raise the net metering caps and reignite solar investment here in Massachusetts.