Solar arrays are springing up over Massachusetts fields, former parking lots, and rooftops; they contribute to an increased percentage of the state’s renewable power supply. They are also evidence of solar’s growing role in boosting the state’s clean energy economy. In recent years, there has been a national debate about the best way to develop distributed solar generation (e.g. rooftop and community-located solar) and how to set rates of payment and compensation for the energy that it generates. In Massachusetts, the General Court decided last year to create the Net Metering and Solar Task Force to discuss solar policy and make recommendations. (Net metering is a method used by utilities to credit customers for the power they provide back to the grid from renewable generation, for example, rooftop solar.) The Task Force included lawmakers, energy and industry representatives, consumer advocates and others. The Task Force Report was released on April 30th.
Task Force Report Recommendations
The Report includes recommendations and supporting information such as policy research and cost-benefit analyses. The first part of the recommendations is a list of consensus general principles regarding the goals of solar and net metering policies, and how to proceed. Most Task Force members also endorsed conducting a Value of Solar study with input from the public and all interested stakeholders. The Study would determine the value and impact of solar in Massachusetts by evaluating total benefits in two broad categories: a) power system benefits, including avoided system costs and b) societal benefits. (See Acadia Center’s Value of Solar study for MA.)
The rest of the Report, however, reflects Task Force differences of opinion, particularly between solar groups and the electric utilities. There is disagreement about how–over the short- and long-term– to reform net metering and lift the net metering caps that currently restrict solar development. Determining the right approach will impact consumers, utilities and the solar industry.
Challenges To Address and Next Steps
While the Report makes sensible overall suggestions for reforming Massachusetts solar policy for the long run, there are a few holes. First, the recommendations appear to allow the utilities to suggest rate reforms before a comprehensive and public Value of Solar study is done. Acadia Center firmly believes the Value of Solar study should be completed before any rate reforms are initiated. Second, the Report fails to develop a concrete proposal that ties solar policy to existing energy and climate policies, which is needed in order to support progress toward the state’s energy and climate goals and create a fair, affordable energy system. In coming months, Acadia Center looks forward to participating in the process of crafting policy solutions that advance these efforts.