Solar is important to Massachusetts. Solar energy, supplied by the sun’s rays, can be converted into electricity or heat without giving off greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming (which the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported is happening, whether we like it or not).
Mass.gov’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs provides a thorough overview of solar, its benefits and its progress in Massachusetts, as well as resources for MA residents interested in installing solar in their own homes – anything to help Governor Deval Patrick meet his revised target of having 1,600 MW of solar power installations set up by 2020. Back in a blog post from February, we told the story of how in 2013 the state met the Governor’s initial goal of 250 MW four years early.
Basically, “net metering” describes the way that consumers of participating utility companies, after installing solar power generators and generating their own energy, negotiate over their electricity bills. According to PV-Tech.org, net metering “allows consumers of certain electricity distributors to generate their own power in order to counterbalance their total electricity usage.” Since the amount of energy the solar-savvy consumer has to purchase from the utility company is reduced, net metering can help lower his bill.
Net metering has been “capped” for public and private net metering facilities to no more than 3% of an electrical utility’s highest historical peak load, or “the most electricity consumed by the distribution company’s customers at any one time,” explains Mass.Gov. Once the cap is met, customers can no longer take advantage of the benefits of net metering.
An article available on the Boston Business Journal’s website and written by its Managing Editor Jon Chesto early last month reports that the public sector has already met its cap. Enter the ongoing conflict that has the solar industry and environmentalists on one side, and utility companies on the other. Sen. Petruccelli and Rep. Smizik propose “An Act relative to net metering,” which gets rid of the caps and is celebrated by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), among others – while Sen. Rodrigues, backed by utility companies, proposes competing legislation that would bring solar developers back to the drawing board.
So what about net metering is so bothersome to utility companies that it needs to be capped? Peter Kind of Edison Electric Institute – which, along with utilities, filed the bill SB 2030 in opposition to An Act relative to net metering – emphasizes the burden net metering places on customers who aren’t participating.
In an article from Greentech Media, in response to another piece on the subject by Chris Nelder, Kind writes that net metering is “benefitting a minority of consumers (those who install [Distributed Generation] systems on their property) to the detriment of the majority (those who do not).” He says consumers without DG systems end up paying for those who have installed them.
Similarly, as reported by Chesto, NStar spokesman Mike Durand said, “We support renewable energy. […] We’re always mindful, though about the cost to our customers of any new initiative or any changes to existing ones.”
Forget all the rules and regulations, the politics, the explanations: What is somone personally interested in installing solar to do? For one, the EEA and several other sources we’ve alluded to here provide extensive information regarding solar and net metering. And, in that same blog post from February, we mentioned a project organized by former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino called Renew Boston Solarize. Their website links to several resources provided by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to help homeowners find a solar installer.
And considering the direction in which Massachusetts is generally moving (the state was ranked fourth in the nation by the SEIA for its amount of solar electric capacity installed in 2013) – despite all these legislative battles, and MA’s weather not being by any means comparable to the warm, ever-present California sunshine – Massachusetts residents don’t seem too afraid to keep moving boldly forward.