This post is the third in a blog mini-series that will explain the various net metering battles occurring across the United States. Previous pieces in the series covered California and Hawaii.
Net metering battles aren’t restricted to warm, sunny states like California and Hawaii. Just take a look at recent net metering discussions in Massachusetts, known for its cold, New England winters. As state utilities begin to hit their net metering caps, policymakers, solar installers, and industry advocates are all weighing in on the best way to move forward. The issue is coming to a head this month as the Massachusetts House of Representatives sets a goal to make a decision before formal sessions are put on hold until 2016.
Net metering and Mass Solar
Massachusetts has some of the coldest winters in the country and gets a significant amount of snow, but that hasn’t had a negative impact on the solar industry. High utility electric rates and supportive public policies in Massachusetts have led to significant growth in the solar industry. A January 2015 report by the Solar Outreach Partnership named Boston #2 in its ranking of cities with the highest value of solar for consumers, and the Solar Energy Industries Association placed Massachusetts at #4 in its 2014 Top 10 Solar States ranking.
State legislators have raised the net metering cap several times already, most recently in 2014. While there is no net metering cap for small-scale residential systems, Massachusetts currently caps net metering for all systems above 25 kilowatts (kW) at 4% of peak electricity demand for private facilities and 5% for public facilities. Every electricity distribution company in the state has its own cap proportional to the size of its service area. The state’s largest distribution company has already hit its net metering caps, putting commercial projects over 25 kW on hold in 171 cities and towns across the state.
Policymakers: raise caps or reimagine policies?
When the state’s largest utility hit its net metering caps, it kicked off a larger conversation about how Massachusetts should structure its policies to ensure that utilities and generators of solar electricity are fairly compensated. Stakeholders are currently debating whether to raise net metering caps or replace them with a program that would compensate customers at a lower rate.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker submitted a bill in August 2015 that does both. The bill would increase net metering caps by 2% to approximately 1,450 MW. Residential customers would continue to get credited at or near the retail rate of electricity, but if they generate more electricity than they use in a month, the excess would be credited at a lower wholesale rate. If passed, this bill could have a major impact on solar homeowners whose systems generate excess electricity in the summer to build up credits for the winter months, when shorter days and colder temperatures reduce the amount of electricity solar panel systems can generate.
A separate bill proposed by the state Senate would increase the net metering cap to 2,400 MW, but includes a provision that establishes a minimum bill amount for all Commonwealth homeowners in order to cover transmission and distribution system costs.
Shifting MA solar incentives: now is the time to go solar
While solar panels are popular in Massachusetts, it still lags behind states like Hawaii, where 15% of homeowners have rooftop solar. It’s unlikely that the Massachusetts state legislature will pass legislation that puts an immediate end to net metering, but whatever is decided will certainly set in motion long-term changes to the way that homeowners receive compensation for their solar electricity.
Massachusetts is only one example of how incentives for new solar adopters will change as solar continues to gain traction across the country. Most policy changes will only impact new solar installations, so if you’re considering going solar, now is the time! Get an instant estimate or register your property today to get multiple quotes from pre-screened installers and take advantage of the financial benefits available to you.