Baker backs Patrick’s solar goal

But energy chief hints incentive trims


THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION is committed to the installation of at least 1,600 megawatts of solar energy in Massachusetts by 2020, the governor’s energy chief said Monday.

“Having said that, I also have a sense that many recognize the current framework and incentive levels need to be revisited as the markets and the industry have matured,” Matt Beaton, Gov. Charlie Baker’s secretary for energy and environmental affairs, said at a solar energy conference at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.

Gov. Deval Patrick set the 1,600-megawatt goal in 2013.

A former state representative from Shrewsbury, Beaton previously ran Beaton Kane Construction, a consulting company that focused on building energy efficient homes.

There are 751 megawatts of solar energy installed in the Bay State, enough for powering 122,000 homes. Beaton called it a “virtual solar boom.”

“My past has given me a great understanding of the power that is in the sun and the work that comes through your work,” Beaton told attendees of the solar energy conference, which included solar manufacturers, service providers and installers. “I stand here today as an advocate for the cause and doing it the right way.”

The total number of solar industry jobs in Massachusetts stands at 10,000, after the addition of 3,000 jobs last year, according to Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), one of the organizations that put together the conference. There are 368 solar companies in Massachusetts.

“We look forward to working with Gov. Baker and Sec. Beaton on ways to develop a long-term framework for solar, which will help to keep the state’s tremendous momentum moving forward,” Resch said in a statement after Beaton’s speech.

A task force set up by the Legislature to look at current net metering and solar programs and “various alternatives to the status quo” is expected to issue a report by the end of March, according to Beaton.

Lawmakers last year approved a bill lifting a cap on solar production, opting against an overhaul of the state system aimed at helping solar energy projects. Beaton, then a state lawmaker, called the bill “watered down” at the time.

“Many of us that were in the Legislature at the time wanted to look at the structure because of broad-based recognition that the installation costs of solar have been coming down dramatically,” Beaton said on Monday.

The structure should help the state hit the 1,600-megawatt target, but it must also reconcile two competing interests, Beaton added.

“First, the incentives must be high enough to continue driving the industry forward. Second, and equally important, ratepayers who fund the program through electric rates should not be paying more than is necessary to reach the installation goal,” he added. “Striking a balance between these two interests should be our mutual reform objective.”

Energy is expected to be a topic the Legislature will likely tackle again this session. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he will ask Lowell Rep. Thomas Golden, the new co-chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, to meet with state officials and stakeholders on energy infrastructure needs.

Separately, Resch, the SEIA president and CEO, told conference attendees to push for the reauthorization of a federal solar investment tax credit for residences and commercial properties, which was first created in 2005.

If the tax credit is allowed to expire in December 2016, nearly 100,000 industry jobs could be lost, he said.

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Resch said attendees should go to speak with Congress members in their district and attend fundraisers.

“We are not an issue here, people,” he said. “We are an industry.”