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Mass. lawmakers urged to fortify solar policy 'bedrock' of net metering


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Mass. lawmakers urged to fortify solar policy 'bedrock' of net metering

Citing a pipeline of "stalled" solar projects in Massachusetts and a general "climate of uncertainty" for the industry, a solar trade group has urged state lawmakers to raise the Commonwealth's caps on net energy metering, a critical solar policy under which utilities credit system owners for energy exports to the grid.

"Failure to raise the [net metering] caps means businesses and communities cannot take advantage of the benefits solar can provide," Dave Gahl, the Solar Energy Industries Association's director of state affairs for the northeastern U.S., said in Oct. 3 testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. "That results in stalled projects, lost investment, lost jobs and firms shifting their capital to other states across the Northeast."

Current net metering limits for private sector projects of 7% of peak load, and 8% for public projects, have been reached across much of Massachusetts, "resulting in 124 stalled projects in certain areas of the state, totaling more than $78 million in a stranded amount of investment," Gahl said. The wait-listed capacity, estimated at more than 51 MW, comprises commercial, industrial and community solar projects. Residential projects in Massachusetts are exempt from net metering caps.

The committee is considering two bills, Senate No. 1824 and an identical proposal in the House of Representatives, that would boost the cap for private-sector projects to 12% and for public projects to 13%. The changes are designed to help the state reach its target of adding another 1,600 MW of solar, Gahl said in an interview, pointing to "a universe of stalled projects due to the failure to raise these caps."

The Commonwealth lifted the limits in April 2016 when lawmakers also slashed the value of credits to 60% of full retail rates. That cut, in addition to new fixed bill charges proposed by Eversource Energy, "repeated delays" in the implementation of the state's new solar program known as the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, the specter of federal import tariffs on solar panels, and limited availability of net metering, "are creating a climate of uncertainty for the solar industry," Gahl said in his testimony.

In a separate Oct. 3 letter to the chairmen of the joint committee, more than 80 environmental groups, solar companies and other solar backers called net metering "the bedrock of Massachusetts' solar policy." They asked lawmakers to completely eliminate caps on the solar-friendly billing arrangement and restore full retail value, "particularly for projects that benefit low-to-moderate income communities." The letter also called for new targets to cover 17.5% of the state's electricity with solar power by 2025 and 25% by 2030.

As of June, Massachusetts had an installed solar capacity of 1,742.8 MW, according to Solar Energy Industries Association data, ranking it sixth among U.S. states. With an estimated nearly $5 billion invested in projects, solar accounts for just over 6% of the state's power mix.