Baker’s latest solar goal called too small
Pacheco, advocates push administration to think bigger
THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION is calling for an 800 megawatt expansion of the state’s relatively new solar incentive program, but a state lawmaker and industry advocates say that amount is way too small.
The so-called SMART program launched last November and demand for incentives quickly outpaced the supply. Nearly 15,000 applications for projects generating 1,100 megawatts of electricity were received. The capacity for projects greater than 5 megawatts is already exhausted in central and western Massachusetts.
At a Senate oversight hearing on Friday, Baker administration officials said they wanted to expand the original 1,600 megawatt proposal by 800 megawatts and run a tweaked SMART program through 2022. The officials focused on some of the challenges they face – a power grid not set up to absorb power from small solar generators, the high cost of connecting those generators to the grid, and the need to move cautiously with technology changing so rapidly.
“Our grid needs to catch up,” said Judith Judson, the commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources.
“We need to move much more quickly,” Pacheco said.
The senator claimed utilities are resistant to rapid solar development because it involves buying power from many smaller generators and undercuts their traditional business model of selling power to customers.
Solar advocates commissioned studies indicating Massachusetts needs to rapidly build out its solar capacity if the state is going to have any chance of meeting its climate emission goals. They say the transportation and building sectors will have to be electrified, and that the additional electricity needed to do that will have to come from renewable sources like solar.
A report done by the Brattle Group for the Coalition for Community Solar Access said New England will need to add ten times more renewable energy each year than is currently planned if the region is going to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.At Friday’s hearing, Baker administration officials said they were pursuing a host of initiatives to expand the state’s solar capacity. But unlike Pacheco and the solar advocates, who pressed for a quicker and bigger deployment, the focus of administration officials seemed to be on incremental gains and keeping costs down.
At one point, Patrick Woodcock, the administration’s undersecretary of energy, asked: “Do we want to overpay for this?” He answered his own question: “No,” he said.