Lawmakers slam new solar charges

Rep. Golden: ‘You’re making this as confusing as possible’

HOUSE AND SENATE ENERGY LEADERS made clear on Tuesday that they aren’t happy with the way Eversource Energy and state regulators have implemented legislation requiring homeowners with solar installations on their property to be charged for their use of the power grid.

The legislation, which was signed into law in 2016, amounted to recognition that customers who erect solar installations on their property and feed excess power into the grid have not been paying their share of the grid’s upkeep costs. Eversource estimated it was assessing its entire customer base for about $8.5 million in costs not collected from customers with solar installations.

The new minimum monthly reliability contribution consists of two charges – a higher monthly customer charge ($9.80, up from $7) and a new demand charge of approximately $1.94 per kilowatt used. For an Eversource residential customer in eastern Massachusetts, the annual impact would be nearly $200, according to a handout from Matthew Beaton, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

The new charges will apply to Eversource customers who erect new solar installations after December 31, 2018. Existing customers with solar installations will not be affected.

Rep. Thomas Golden Jr. of Lowell, the House chair of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, said his phone has been ringing off the hook with people complaining about the new charges.

“I’m not happy with how this was rolled out,” he said at an oversight hearing at the State House. “On purpose you’re making this as confusing as possible.”

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the co-chair of the committee, said his chief concern was that the demand charge was not designed to encourage energy conservation by homeowners with solar installations. He said the demand charge is tied to the homeowner’s peak demand, not to peak demand for the grid as a whole. He also said that, without more advanced electricity meters, customers with solar installations will have no way of knowing when they are using the most electricity.

Barrett also questioned Eversource and Baker administration officials on whether the new charges on solar customers were wise at a time when tax credits for solar installations are shrinking and the Trump administration is imposing tariffs on imported solar panels

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“There’s kind of an undeclared war on solar going on,” Barrett said.

Beaton and Angela O’Connor, the chair of the Department of Public Utilities, defended the approval of  the new minimum monthly reliability contribution given the timetable established by the 2016 law. Beaton said the Baker administration would be open to working with the Legislature on ways to improve the charge.