Boston — One week after the Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously to lift the cap on the state’s most important solar program, a coalition of labor, business, low-income, and environmental organizations rallied at the State House urging state leaders to finish the job.
“It’s the middle of the summer and we should be doing everything we can to soak up the rays of the sun,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “Instead, arbitrary caps on solar power are keeping us in the dark. State officials should help communities take advantage of all of the environmental and economic benefits that solar brings.”
Today’s event was the final stop on the “Soak Up the Sun!” Solar Tour, organized by Environment Massachusetts. Between July 20 and July 30, solar supporters in 10 communities, from Pittsfield to Barnstable, gathered in support of raising limits on solar power.
In March, a cap on a key solar program known as net metering was hit for more than 170 Massachusetts communities. Net metering allows solar panel owners to receive full compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid. As a result of the cap, many businesses, local governments, and nonprofits hoping to install solar panels are no longer able to do so.
Speakers at the event said that some workers in the solar industry have already lost their jobs as a result of the net metering cap, and solar businesses have been forced to rethink their plans to expand in Massachusetts.
Utility companies and the Baker administration have opposed an immediate increase in the net metering caps. House leaders have not yet indicated if or when they will schedule a vote on the issue.
“The net metering limits are killing hundreds of solar projects across Massachusetts and subsequently putting working families at risk. For every megawatt of solar energy delayed, approximately 20 livable wage electrical jobs are squandered,” said Matt Lash, Director of Business Development for the 7,500-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103 and its over 200 employer–contractors. “Our members cannot continue building clean energy infrastructure in their communities until the Legislature raises the caps. Absent that, explosive growth responsible for over 12,000 green careers will likely vanish.”
A recent report from the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, Shining Rewards, reviewed the findings of 11 studies on the value of solar energy and concluded that solar offers significant benefits to the electric grid, the environment, and the economy.
All of the studies reviewed in the report agree that the benefits of solar outweigh the costs. Furthermore, eight of the 11 studies show that the benefits of solar exceed the amount that solar owners are paid under net metering, suggesting that net metering is a fair way to compensate solar owners for the value they provide — and, if anything, may be undercompensating them.
"In low-income communities across Massachusetts, solar is helping residents lower their energy costs, stay in their homes, and reduce harmful air pollution that threatens public health, all while helping Massachusetts reach its climate change goals," said Gail Latimore, Executive Director of the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation and Chair of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC). "Our state's leaders should lift the net metering caps, preserve virtual net metering, and support other programs to make the benefits of solar available to all in Massachusetts."
"The growth of solar power is one of the great success stories in Massachusetts, both in moving our state away from fossil fuels, and the creation of thousands of new jobs," said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (Acton). "I'm proud to have sponsored legislation to raise the net metering cap, and better support community solar, to make sure that residents across Massachusetts can benefit from solar power."
"It is critical that we raise the net metering cap as soon as possible,” said State Representative Paul Mark (Peru). “Every day that action is not taken is another day that solar projects cannot move forward, that renewable energy is wasted, and that good-paying green jobs are potentially lost."
Employment in Massachusetts’ clean energy industry is rising. In 2014, the solar industry supported more than 12,000 jobs statewide, according to a report from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
Last year, Massachusetts was fourth in the nation for the amount of solar energy installed, with enough solar added to the grid to power 50,000 homes with clean energy.
"Massachusetts' solar industry is thriving thanks to smart state policies. These policies have created a foundation that has attracted billions of dollars of private investment in our new energy infrastructure and created 12,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. However, the net metering caps are threatening to hold us back," said Zaid Ashai, Chairman and CEO of Nexamp, a Boston-based solar company. "With support from state leaders, solar can continue to thrive, with major benefits for our state's economy."
In April, more than a hundred people gathered at the State House for the Stand Up for Solar lobby day and asked legislators to raise the net metering caps and commit to ambitious solar goals. Lobby day participants delivered letters signed by more than 350 city and town officials, 560 small business leaders, 52 solar industry leaders, and 25 environmental organizations asking Governor Baker to support a goal of getting 20% of Massachusetts’ electricity from solar by 2025.
“Across Massachusetts, people are eager to go solar, but the net metering caps are holding them back,” said Hellerstein. “Our state’s leaders should act immediately to raise the net metering caps and commit to a goal of 20% solar by 2025.”
Environment Massachusetts is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentMassachusetts.org