The Solar Bill Compromise: A Very Mixed Deal

Statement from Climate Action Now in western Mass.

While CAN appreciates the time and effort the legislature has devoted to the issue of solar policy in the last months, we have significant concerns with the final bill, H.4173, that passed this week. While the bill raised the net metering cap a bit, continuing with a cap at all is counterproductive to sufficiently reduce our fossil fuel use in combatting climate change, and arbitrary cuts to net metering compensation will harm low-income solar projects and projects already in the queue awaiting the raising of the cap. 

Other states such as California and New York have decided to continue with full retail net metering and to discontinue caps on net metering while they undertake a more complete analysis of the benefits and costs of solar to their communities.  Massachusetts should do no less.

Cutting the net metering compensation to 60% of the retail rate will significantly harm the development of low income solar projects.  While we applaud the legislature for maintaining the retail reimbursement rate for residential customers, we are deeply troubled by the juxtaposition of these two rates. Essentially, the bill offers wealthy and middle class solar homeowners a higher net metering credit than it offers low-income solar customers- for the same amount of energy supplied to the grid.  We do not believe the conferees intended to exacerbate economic inequality, but that is the unintended consequence.  Furthermore, by suggesting that DOER can rectify this inequality via the SREC incentive program, the bill displays a fundamental lack of understanding about low-income benefits.  Low-income residents cannot accept cash compensation (such as through SRECs) without compromising their eligibility for service and support programs they rely on.

Furthermore, facilitating the ability of the electric utilities to petition the DPU for mandatory minimum charges for solar customers without specifying a ceiling, or an exemption for low-income customers, will add a burden equivalent to a tax on all consumers that will especially harm low-income users.

Projects already in the queue were planned, financed and approved based on the prevailing retail net metering rate at the time of their development.  To retroactively change that anticipated compensation would jeopardize these projects and give Massachusetts a bad reputation among clean energy developers who will have no reason to trust policy stipulations at any point in time.

The Legislature needs to make the following fixes to our state’s solar policy this year as budget amendments, or as part of the comprehensive energy bill, in order to ensure equal access to solar for low-income communities and sustain future solar development:

  1. Eliminate the cap on net metering, given the significant cuts to net metering credit values.
  2. Restore full retail net metering for low-income solar projects.
  3. Specify that if DPU ultimately approves a mandatory minimum charge for solar customers, that charge cannot exceed $10 a month and low-income solar customers must be exempted from it.
  4. Exempt solar projects already in the queue from the reduced net metering rates.
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