Solar Policy and Legislation

MassSolar helps you stay on top of the latest developments in Massachusetts solar policy and legislation.


2017 Legislative session opens with a flurry of energy bills filed

MassSolar is combing through the hundreds of energy bills filed at the start of this legislative session and will provide you with an update shortly on the key pieces of legislation we're supporting to help keep solar working for Massachusetts.

2016 recap: Legislature acts on solar policy but efforts fall short 

Massachusetts uses two mechanisms to encourage the development of solar: net metering and solar incentives. Net metering ensures a solar customer receives retail credit on their utility bills for the excess clean power they feed back to the grid. Solar incentives are designed to compensate solar for it environmental benefits, e.g. emission free electricity.  Together, these programs have been created a vibrant and diverse solar market that delivers a range of benefits to Massachusetts ratepayers, businesses, communities and individuals.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts “caps” the amount of solar that is eligible for net metering. For more than a year, net metering caps had been reached in different utility territories, stalling solar across the Commonwealth.  The solar community, environmental groups, citizens and many others mobilized to ask the legislature to eliminate or raise net metering caps.  But with utilities standing in the way, things were slow moving on Beacon Hill.  

Solar policy recap

Here's a brief recap of the solar legislative efforts over the past 12 months:

Efforts to move net metering legislation before the summer recess in 2015 resulted in the Senate adopting Amendment 18 to Senate Bill S1973 by unanimous consent in July. No action was taken on the House side before the summer break.  However, shortly thereafter, the Governor introduced his own solar bill, H. 3724.  This bill raises net metering caps but significantly curtails the Massachusetts solar program and takes the Commonwealth in the wrong direction.  Read more here.

In November, the legislature seemed poised to finally take action on solar.  However, the bill (H. 3854) the House decided to advance was anything but solar friendly.  Among other things, the legislation proposed to slash net metering credits by as much as 75%.  This would all  but ensure that no new low income, community shared or municipal solar projects could move forward.  After the House passed a bill, the Senate countered with S. 2058 and a conference committee was convened to reach a compromise.  Months later, little progress has been made.  

In the meantime, the Massachusetts solar incentive program has just about reached its capacity.  Known as SREC II, this program is designed to realize the installation of 1600 MW of solar in the Commonwealth.  The program is already closed to all but the smallest solar projects.  That means even in communities where net metering caps haven't yet been hit, i.e. Eversource territory, almost all new solar projects are stalled, jobs at risk and millions of dollars of investment likely to be lost. Between net metering caps and SREC II reaching it limites, solar was all but stalled across the entire state until the legislature acts. 

The seriousness of this issue and the poor response from the legislature to-date prompted an increasing number of organizations, muncipalities and others to send letters to Beacon Hill, pass resolutions or draft opinion editorials urging immediate action.  A selection of those materials is included below.

Solar legislation (finally) passes

In April 2016, the legislature passed a solar bill (H. 4173), which was promptly signed by Governor Baker. This legislation is good in some respects, and bad in others.  The good parts of the bill included: (1) net metering cap relief (3% cap increase for both private and public sector projects); (2) retail net metering was preserved for small solar systems and municipal solar projects; and (3) the bill created a successor solar incentive program.

The bad parts of the bill included: (1) the 3% cap increase (bad because the waiting list for solar projects is so long in National Grid territory that we are likely to hit the caps again after they are hit); (2) retail net metering for low income solar projects was NOT preserved and new solar projects will receive net metering rates that are 60% of retail rates; and (3) a minimum bill provision that allows utilities to ask the DPU for a minimum bill on all solar projects (NOTE: existing solar projects can be exempted from a minimum bill until 2020 and projects serving low income ratepayers can be entirely exempted from a minimum bill).

We are very disappointed that the legislature decided not to preserve retail net metering for new low income and community shared solar.  The net effect of this policy change is that these types of solar systems will effectively be forced to give 40% of their electricity away for free.  As if this policy change wasn't bad enough, it's also worth knowing that the private net metering cap in National Grid territory was hit the day it was raised.  That means solar projects are once again stalled in 171 communities.

Next steps on solar policy

MassSolar will continue its work to advocate for reasonable solar policy and eliminating net metering caps.  We continue to support the Next Generation Solar Policy Framework.  It seeks to preserve the best elements of the Commonwealth's nation-leading solar energy programs, while modifying the way that solar energy producers are compensated to fully and fairly account for the benefits that local solar resources offer to our energy grid and to provide a sustainable rate model for maintenance and modernization of the grid.

MassSolar is also focused on processes at the DPU and DOER to implement H. 4173.  See below for more information.

Additional Resources

  • Primer on solar policy in Massachusetts
  • Solar Q&A developed by E2
  • MassSolar legislative briefing and video on benefits of solar and impact of legislative proposals

State Solar Policy Proceedings

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and Department of Public Utilities implement and regulate many of the state’s solar policies and programs. MassSolar actively tracks these efforts and will provide updates here any time a new solar policy, program or regulation is proposed. 

Department of Public Utility Dockets

Net Metering

Emergency Net Metering Regulations, D.P.U. 16-64.  This docket implements parts of H. 4173, including cuts to net metering rates for certain types of solar projects.  Look up the docket in the DPU file room to follow the process and read public comments.  Read MassSolar's comments here.

A list of all open and closed net metering dockets here. Review the status of these dockets at the DPU File Room.

Other dockets

11-75: Investigation on Distributed Generation Interconnection

12-76: Modernization of the Electric Grid

17-22: Single Parcel and Subdivision Rule docket

Department of Energy Resources

As required by H. 4173, DOER is developing a new solar incentive program in the coming months to succeed the SREC II program.  The new program is called SMART and we're awaiting draft regulations to be released.  You can learn more about the SMART program here.  Recently, MassSolar and several others raised concerns about the ability of the proposed program to ensure continued development of low income and community shared solar projects.

DOER has also issued emergency regulations to extend the SREC II program while it develops the new program. Watch this space for further updates and opportunities to participate.

Board of Building Regulation and Standards 

The Board is considering building code changes that could impact rooftop solar development in the residential sector.  Several solar companies sent a letter to the Board outlining their position on the matter.  View the letter here.

Net Metering and Solar Task Force

The Task Force was created in 2014 to review solar policy in Massachusetts and was comprised of a committee of Massachusetts politicians, state administrators, solar industry leaders, utilities, consumer advocates and energy stakeholders that was created. The Task Force wrapped up its work in April 2015 and has issued a final report.  

Resources:
  • Find out more about the Task Force process here.
  • Read the February 20th letter from solar companies to the Task Force.
  • Download the final Task Force report here and read the Mass Solar Coalition's statement on the report.
  • Download a PPT presentation summarizing the Task Force report here.

Creating the Next Generation of Solar Policy for Massachusetts

Massachusetts must do more than raise net metering caps to keep our solar powered economy growing. 

The Framework would put us on a pathway to a self-sustaining solar industry that can help our state meet its energy and environmental goals and ensure all citizens and communities have access to solar resources. Critically, the Framework is in line with the consensus and majority recommendations of the Net Metering and Solar Task Force and has the support 65 solar businesses and environmental organizations as well as public health, labor and low income and community groups.  A summary of the Framework can be downloaded here.


Local Solar Policy Proceedings

From time to time, MassSolar tracks and engages in solar policy proceedings at the local level. These proceedings range from efforts to streamline solar permitting processes, update buildings codes so new construction is solar ready and other matters. 

MassSolar is not tracking any local solar policy proceedings at this time.


Have a solar policy issue that you think MassSolar should be tracking? Send an e-mail to info@solarisworking.org.