By Anthony Lucivero, Advocacy Fellow

We have a special cameo blog post from Caroline Higley, a Tufts University student, and member of the Tufts Energy Group. Here is her take on our Policy Podium for net metering that we hosted on 2/25. Take it away, Caroline!

In the past five months, the Massachusetts solar industry arrived at a critical crossroads, as two policies reached capacity. With the net metering caps being reached in August 2015, and the SREC-II large-generation program being filled in late February 2016, the pressue is on for state legislators to reach a compromise before development grinds to a halt.  Over 15,100 individuals are employed in the Massachusetts solar industry, and approximately $800 million was invested in Massachusetts solar installations in 2014.  These figures indicate the importance of an immediate compromise to maintain and support the solar energy economy in Massachusetts (“Massachusetts Solar.” Solar Energy Industries Association, 2015. Web. 28 Feb.)

This week, the U.S. Green Building Council – Massachusetts Chapter (USGBC MA), hosted a “Policy Podium” event to discuss the status of the legislative gridlock on net metering and solutions to move forward.  Panelists included four professionals: David Colton, Easton Town Administrator; Charles Harak, National Consumer Law, Tim Roughan, National Grid; and Matt Shortsleeve, Solect Energy. Overall, these individuals were directed to answer two questions: “What does the MA Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council need to know to be effective advocates for net metering?” and “What is one strategy USGBC MA can adopt to promote a compromise?”

Panelists first gave an overview of the factors affecting legislative compromise. Conversations on Beacon Hill seek to address priorities in order of urgency, which include lifting the net metering caps while determining the future structure of net metering and incentives.  A dynamic conversation followed, in which panelists discussed: the solar incentives program, the distribution of costs to support solar, project sizes, the justification to change legislative terms and eliminate certainty for grandfathered projects, the rates at which projects are compensated, the impacts to the grid, and the value of increased access to solar via community solar. Each panelist advocated for different combinations of the solutions, indicative of their individual experiences.

Panelists were encouraged to answer the two guiding questions throughout the debate. As agreed upon by panelists, the ultimate strategy for the USGBC MA is to advocate for the completion of a value of solar study. Panelists reinforced that the costs of solar are unclear, the benefits of solar are unrecognized, and that legislators will need hard facts and figures to reach a decision.

A comprehensive study might make a decision more conspicuous, but I would argue that we already know the value of solar. Several renewable energy analyses have been executed in states throughout the country, and cite the solar industry’s job creation, the elimination of emissions, improved public health, local independence, alleviation at peak demand, price stability, and resiliency as few of many positive externalities. These studies have quantified cost benefits of solar, and can be applied in a framework to Massachusetts; however, political interests here have deterred this from happening.

Rather than delay action by advocating for a study, I would call forth Massachusetts residents to focus on the bigger picture. As active citizens looking to our futures, our goals should include a move away from fossil fuels to meet the Green Communities Act standards and to set a national precedent following the Paris Accord. As clean energy leaders, we must learn from the mistakes that other states have made (ex. Nevada’s decision to forestall  their solar industry), while learning from the successes of other states (ex. Rhode Island’s program to promote home efficiency updates prior to solar installation).  Widespread solar growth can only be a positive trend, and residents must remember the values upon which we pride ourselves in this state. When these sentiments are expressed to, and then mirrored by, our legislators, a decision might come a little easier.

Our next Policy Podium will be an evening with Senator Benjamin Downing and solar industry professionals, where we will discuss the future of solar energy and green jobs in Massachusetts. Don't miss out! Monday, March 14th, 6:00pm – 7:30pm, 50 Milk St, 17th floor, “Milky Way” conference room, Boston, MA, 02109. Register now!


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