By Craig Foley, ReMax Leading Edge

By Craig Foley, ReMax Leading Edge

H. 4185 “An Act relative to net metering and solar power” is a compromise between Massachusetts utility companies, the solar power industry, and the state regulating bodies that administer the SREC program, MA DOER, as well the state body that regulates utility rates, the DPU.

The bill makes five changes to existing solar policies:
  1. Net metering would be unaltered and its cap eliminated.
  2. Virtual net metering customers would be reimbursed at a lower rate to cover their use of the distribution system.
  3. The solar renewable energy credit (SREC) incentive system would be replaced by a performance-based, declining tariff incentive.
  4. All utility customers would be subject to a minimum bill.
  5. Governor Deval Patrick’s ambitious target of 1,600 megawatts of installed solar capacity would become a legally binding mandate. (The 2007 goal of 250 MW of solar capacity, originally set for 2017, was reached in 2013; we now have over 500 MW of installed solar capacity in MA).
The main purpose for the bill is that the state's grid has approached the previous ceiling of a 3% cap on net metering relative to peak load of each of the Massachusetts utility companies. If your project does not qualify to be included within the cap, it cannot earn utility payments for the excess (net) energy it produces. Without expanding, or removing the cap as H.4185 would allow, the rapidly expanding solar PV industry in MA could come to a grinding halt.  The bill trades removing the cap for allowing the DPU to find a suitable minimum bill for all utility customers in the Commonwealth to support grid reliability.  It also replaces the SREC program with a new declining tariff incentive, meaning that both the specific details on the minimum bill charge and the tariff would be fleshed out at a later date.
 
The bill is complicated with many questions about the specific details on how this would affect rate-payers left unanswered. There is no question, however, that removing the net metering cap is seen as a priority by legislators, state commissioners, and the Governor. 
Given that the bill is as complex as it is, it is questionable whether it will be passed by the end of this legislative session at the end of the month. That being said, there is support of the bill by much of the solar industry, environmentalists, the commissioners at MA DOER and the DPU, and the utility companies – a rare blend of bedfellows.
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