By Cherie Ching, Advocacy Fellow
Net Metering, one of USGBC MA Chapter's three current advocacy priorities, took center stage this month as Bills S-1770 and H-2852, sponsored by Senator James Eldridge and Representatives Thomas Calter & Paul Mark came into focus. The bills address the net metering caps and are aligned to the State’s current 1600 MW solar target. The legislation would allow more companies to take advantage of the 30% federal investment tax credit before the end of 2016. In addition, the bill would also create a new 20% target of State’s electricity to be derived from solar by Dec 31, 2025 and establish an energy storage incentive program to commence Jan 1, 2016. Innovative programs such as energy storage address the problems arising during peak electric generation and capacity periods.
Net metering caps are maintained by State law, which requires each distribution company to separately limit or “cap” public and private solar net metering eligibility. Under the amendments to Bill S-2214, the Private Net Metering Cap is currently 4% and the Public Net Metering Cap at 5%. Each cap is calculated by the percentage of each company’s highest historical peak load, or the most electricity consumed by the distribution company’s ratepayers at any one time. In the 2014-2015 legislative session, Bill H-4185 was not passed and many celebrated, though only for a short while. The main purpose for the bill was to remove the previous ceiling of a 3% cap on net metering relative to peak load of each of the Massachusetts utility companies. 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 Department of Public Utilities 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. USGBC MA article
Although net metering encourages ratepayers to move toward a more efficient and sustainable energy generation system through renewable resources, the decrease in grid dependency poses a threat to utility companies, ultimately affecting the nonparticipating ratepayers. Raising or eliminating the net metering caps would allow more renewable energy investment, support environmental goals, and create green jobs. However, this could also lead to utilities implementing fixed monthly charges to cover fixed capital expenditures, which would increase the retail rates. In the Massachusetts Net Metering and Solar Task Force Report 4/30/15– Baker-Polito Administration stated that it “does not support raising the net metering caps in the short term absent a long term sustainable solution . . . that effectively balances promoting clean energy and lowering costs to ratepayers.” When net customers are not paying for distribution costs, they are obtaining a “free-ride” on the rest of the ratepayers rates. Utilities are slowly providing more services to their customers to accommodate the switch to a system that effectively manages renewable energy. Innovative solutions such as battery storage, a modernized distribution system, and advanced research on energy efficiency strategies are promising, but costly.
Please stay with us as we monitor the developments at the State House and as we advocate to increase renewable energy options for buildings in Massachusetts, while ensuring a safe, reliable and appropriately paid-for electricity grid for everyone in the Commonwealth.