Solar cap clamor resurfacing already
Grumbling begins a month after law’s passage
It’s starting again.
A little over a month ago, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that lifted the cap on solar net metering credits, making it possible for projects that had been stalled for close to a year to start moving forward. The bill-signing followed a long and bitter dispute between utilities and solar developers, and a protracted fight in a legislative conference committee that took five months to resolve.
The same type of friction is now starting to emerge again, as solar projects are beginning to bump up against the cap limit in the National Grid service territory. As of Thursday afternoon, a website that tracks net metering cap space indicated 50 megawatts of proposed solar projects in the National Grid territory are on a waiting list vying for 39 megawatts of remaining capacity.
One developer sent me an email suggesting the cap limit needs to be adjusted upward. “Hopefully, the omnibus energy legislation gives legislators the opportunity to fix the mess they created,” he said.
According to the net metering website, developers of private solar projects are close to hitting the available cap space in the National Grid territory, but space is still available for government projects. Elsewhere across the state, there is plenty of cap space for both private and government projects.
National Grid’s service territory has become almost a solar Shangri-La. It was the first service territory to reach its cap under the old cap system and it’s likely to be the first under the new system. Part of the reason is Grid’s service territory is big. It includes 171 cities and towns and covers central Massachusetts, southwestern Massachusetts, northeastern Massachusetts, and even parts of far-west Massachusetts.
But what really makes the region so attractive to solar developers is a combination of relatively cheap land, cooperative utility officials, and a rate structure that yields attractive net metering payments. Payments are far less attractive in the Western Massachusetts Electric territory out west because of a peculiarity of that region’s rate structure, according to analysts, and land is more scarce and higher-priced in the eastern Massachusetts service territory of Eversource.
Pater Shattuck, director of the Massachusetts office of the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, said the current one-size-fits-all cap system should perhaps be replaced with an approach that incentivizes the development of solar projects that add the most benefit to the power grid and in areas such as eastern Massachusetts where electricity usage is heaviest.
But National Grid officials aren’t interested in tweaking the system. They say cap space under the current system is plentiful for government projects in the National Grid territory and for all types of projects in the state’s other utility territories.In a statement, the utility noted the recently passed law increased the net metering cap for private customers from 4 to 7 percent of the company’s peak load, and from 5 to 8 percent for government customers. The officials said the National Grid service territory has 80 megawatts more of net metering online than any other utility in the state, a number that is likely to increase.
“In Massachusetts, our customers without solar continue to absorb more than their fair share of the state’s solar goals and associated costs,” said the National Grid statement. “We have advocated and will continue to advocate on their behalf for a more sustainable solar program that reduces subsidies in line with the reduced costs of installing solar….Continued expansion of the programs at their current subsidy level is unsustainable and will limit the ability of solar to grow in the Commonwealth as a critical part of our energy mix.”