Utilities aren’t afraid of solar

The truth is our customers pay way too much for it

IN 2009, MASSACHUSETTS DECOUPLED our electricity rates, eliminating the incentive for us at National Grid to sell more electricity to our customers. This change in the way we do business enabled us to throw our support behind intensive energy efficiency programs for our customers. This fact is noticeably missing from the Acadia Center’s lengthy argument about the relationship between solar and the utilities. In “Technology upends the utility business model,” the Center contends that utilities are afraid of solar growth. They say that solar threatens our business model by reducing load on the grid and requiring fewer infrastructure improvements.

That doesn’t hold up for a few reasons. There is no measure that reduces grid impacts greater than an energy efficiency measure and, yet, National Grid and our fellow utilities have led programs that have made Massachusetts No. 1 in the nation in energy efficiency for five years running. The Acadia Center knows this; they are one of the program’s partners.

The bottom line is that we support efficient investments of our customers’ dollars.

Also absent from the Acadia Center’s account of utilities’ fear of solar are some key facts.  National Grid has teamed up with developers such as Borrego and Solar City to build 20 megawatts of large-scale solar, testing advanced inverter technology and the impact of strategically-located solar on the grid. We have invested in a pilot project from the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems to begin testing battery storage (technology that will eventually change the solar game). We have increased our distributed generation team to get customer projects online more quickly – interconnecting more than 17,000 Massachusetts solar projects in 2015, an amount greater than the previous four years combined.

In short, solar is not new to us. We’ve been supportive since the 1980s when we installed solar panels on residential and commercial buildings in Gardner and Beverly. That is our commitment. Those are the facts.

Despite all of these shining examples that our company fully embraces solar and sees its value to our customers and to our business, many continue to question why we may want our customers to pay as little as possible for the benefits.

The simple truth is that Massachusetts customers pay twice as much for solar as our customers in other states where we operate. For example, in New York, since January, we have received interconnection requests totaling more than 400 megawatts. Those projects will receive prices around 17 and 18 cents per kilowatt hour as reimbursement versus the 45 cents per kilowatt hour our customers pay here in Massachusetts. The result is that our non-solar customers pay far more than their fair share, paying out more than $280 million in 2015 alone.

We can move closer to the kind of affordable program we see in New York and achieve the same benefits at a lesser cost to non-solar customers in Massachusetts. National Grid welcomes a resolution to the questions surrounding solar incentives in Massachusetts that the Legislature and other stakeholders have wrestled with for the last year.

Meet the Author

Ed White

Vice president, new energy solutions, National Grid
It is our hope that the ultimate goal of all involved is to develop a long-term, sustainable solar program that best serves the Commonwealth’s customers by unleashing the benefits of solar through more affordable policies that will also provide the solar community with the stability and certainty they seek.

Ed White is the vice president, new energy solutions, at National Grid.