New Solar Law in MA

New Massachusetts Solar Legislation

Governor Baker is expected to sign into  law , Monday April 11th  the compromise solar bill passed by the House and Senate last week.  The bill is far from perfect ; it is not even good or fair but  it does provide some relief  for  solar businesses and customers confused and unable to make long term  plans  since January 2014 when the states largest utilities began an active lobbying campaign against solar net metering and the SRECs  incentive.

The bill raises the public and private limits  or ‘caps’ on net metered  distributed generation. For the last year no new large  net metered installations have been allowed in National Grid utility territory. The Eversource utility cap was reached recently. The Cap expansion allowed under this bill offers less than a year runway until the limits are reached again.  These caps are arbitrary ;  New York State for example has no cap limits; in Massachusetts the caps are the utilities’ tool to keep solar development of large PV systems on a short leash.

Note that for most residential systems there is no cap limit.

The bill preserves the almost full retail value for net metered solar kilowatt hour exports from  PV systems that serve government and municipalities and small systems under 10 kilowatts ( kW ) on single phase service. Most all residential services are single phase.  The same near full  net metering value  is also allowed for PV systems under 25 kW  interconnected on three phase services. These small services are typical of medium to large commercial and institutional accounts.

For the time being all systems registering for net metering may receive the nearly  full retail rate however once  the 1600 Megawatt  (MW)  threshold is reached  any solar PV systems installed afterwards which  are not serving a municipality or government  entity  or are larger than the  10 kW and 25 kW thresholds indicated  will only receive 60% of the retail rate for their net metering credits.  This threshold may be reached very soon and certainly by the end of 2017. Depending on how one counts installed capacity , then pending , then reserved capacity there is anywhere from 400  to 684 MW  left to reach the 1600 MW mark.

The compromise bill also expands the SREC II  production incentive program through 2017 provided: a. small systems are completely on line before a successor program is established – this means the probable deadline for SRECS II eligibility  is Dec. 31, 2016 ;  and b. large systems have an Interconnection Agreement in place (they do not necessarily have to be on line ) by  February 2017;  and c.  no matter when the system goes on line its  SREC II eligibility  has to end in 2027. Thus if your large system comes on line the first quarter of 2018 it may not receive  SRECs II production credits a full ten years.

DOER is charged with developing a new incentive program for solar with stakeholder input. BPVS will certainly participate and advocate for production incentive parity for those pre -2010  solar PV system owners who have been barred  and  then  ignored by the byzantine policies of the SREC I  and SREC II  incentive.

 

Not incidentally the new compromise bill has two features the utilities demanded. First it grants each utility  the ability to develop and own  up to 35 MW of PV for themselves. They get to charge ratepayers for the capital costs to build these plants and they will profit from their production and environmental credits. Second, the bill language calls for the utilities to petition the DPU  to create a new minimum bill category they can level on solar  generation accounts.  Earlier versions of the bill sponsored by the Baker administration and the utilities granted them that minimum bill category so the Senate negotiators were able to hold this off a bit.

Since the present DPU is highly favorable to the utility industry some sort of minimum bill may come about very soon. The utilities are trying to get this same type of new minimum charge applicable to all accounts through various pieces of legislation and DPU  tariff and rate dockets.  It amounts to a pre emptive collection  tool to maintain their revenues against  diminishing electricity usage  and to finance capital  improvements such as  the controversial  natural gas pipelines. Both clean energy advocates  and  groups dedicated to ratepayer fairness issues  across the nation have shown that this type of utility charge is regressive.

 

In summary  the compromise solar bill allows a short window for  solar development into  2017 and then introduces financial disincentives for  large non governmental  solar development such as on solar farms , at  non profit  institutions and  on low income housing. It rather completely ruins the financial benefits of most community solar business models.  Depending on the size of the minimum bill allowed by the DPU the hurt to the small PV  market  is difficult to diagnose. .. will it heal quickly , get infected or be so deep the patient bleeds to death rapidly ?  The sense in the marketplace and environmental movement  that active utility lobbying of  the Massachusetts legislature has  resulted  in  solar policy  going  retrograde is very chilling.

Photovoltaic technology and applications are flexible however. This pushback in Massachusetts  is part of  a nationwide effort by electric utilities; some call it a  last ditch desperate effort to delay the advent of  localized  renewable electricity generation and storage. Many  in the 80’s and 90’s foresaw that “net metering” would turn to “not metering”.   Grid defection is happening already.  But people going off grid is not the  best remedy for our  New England infrastructure to help avert global climate change. Properly valued and deployed grid connect solar is essential and one of the most efficient renewable energy prescriptions for a sustainable electricty grid.

 

Posted By: cdk . (2016-04-11)