Massachusetts ranks 5th for solar installations in 2014, but inaction by state leaders could stall growth

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Thursday, September 3, 2015, 11:00 AM

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Sharon Solomon, 678-334-1212 (c), sharon@environmentmassachusetts.org

Massachusetts ranks 5th for solar installations in 2014, but inaction by state leaders could stall growth

NEW BEDFORD, MA – Massachusetts ranked 5th nationwide for the amount of solar energy capacity installed per person in 2014, according to a new report from the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, but business executives and community leaders warned that the rapid growth of solar energy could stall if state officials fail to lift a cap on Massachusetts’ most important solar program.

“New Bedford and Massachusetts are leaders for solar power, but inaction by our state’s leaders is threatening to change that,” said Sharon Solomon, Impact Campaign Organizer with Environment Massachusetts. “Solar is bringing major benefits to our environment and our economy. There’s no reason to limit something that has been so good for New Bedford.”

Lighting the Way III: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2014 says that while Massachusetts has enough sunshine to meet its annual electricity needs many times over, it’s not its solar potential that has made the difference. Instead, the state has outpaced sunnier locales like Florida because of policies that allow increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to “go solar.”

From 2013 to 2014, Massachusetts retained its spot as the state with the 6th highest total installed solar capacity. But there are already signs that Massachusetts’ solar industry has slowed in response to a limit on a key program known as net metering. A report from GTM Research predicts that Massachusetts will install less solar power this year than in 2014, after years of rapid growth.

In July, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill to lift caps on net metering. Governor Charlie Baker also introduced a bill to lift the caps, but advocates said that the Governor’s bill would ultimately slow the growth of solar power and make it harder for many, including renters and residents of low-income communities, to access the benefits of solar.

“New Bedford has led the way with installations of solar and has been a great place for our company to do business”, said Phil Cavallo CEO of New Bedford based Beaumont Solar. “We have grown the business 10x in the past 7 years, and have hired locally to create green collar jobs in the city.”

Net metering allows solar panel owners to receive fair compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid. In March, a cap on net metering was hit for the 171 Massachusetts communities served by National 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.

In July, Environment Massachusetts organized the “Soak Up the Sun” Solar Tour, visiting 10 communities across the state to bring attention to the impacts of the net metering caps. Local officials, solar business owners, and nonprofit leaders spoke about proposed solar projects that have stalled because of the caps.

Of the top 10 states in the report — Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, and North Carolina — nine, including Massachusetts, have strong net metering policies as well as laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid. All ten have renewable energy requirements.

“Our analysis shows that policy choices are a key driver of solar energy growth,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. “State and local government policy leadership is closely aligned with success in growing solar energy.”

From 2010 to 2013, solar energy grew by an average rate of 127% per year in Massachusetts. In 2014 the solar industry supported more than 12,000 jobs statewide, according to a report from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

More than 350 city and town officials and 560 small business owners have called on Governor Baker to commit to a goal of getting 20% of Massachusetts’ electricity from solar power by 2025.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state limits on carbon pollution from coal and gas power plants and was finalized last month, provides an additional reason for Massachusetts to accelerate its development of solar energy. According to Environment Massachusetts research, solar power could easily meet about three-quarters of the pollution reduction targets required by the plan.

“When it comes to solar, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels,” said Solomon. “Governor Baker and other state officials should lead the way by lifting arbitrary caps on solar and committing to a goal of 20% solar by 2025.”

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Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.environmentmassachusettscenter.org

 

— Sharon Solomon Global Warming Solutions Organizer Environment Massachusetts 678-334-1212 (c) sharon@environmentmassachusetts.org

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