A better way to pay for power grid infrastructure

DPU's plan to have customers foot the bill initially makes sense

MASSACHUSETTS HAS SET realistic goals for reducing carbon emissions by 2030, but it will be necessary to make regulatory and policy updates to achieve those benchmarks. Fortunately, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) recognizes this imperative and advanced a provisional program that will explore new ways to upgrade our electric grid to accommodate the necessary growth of distributed resources, such as local solar and storage. To be sure, this will be a multi-step process and many issues remain for review, but overhauls do not happen overnight. Meeting carbon reduction goals requires steadfast work and commitment. We must ensure we continue to keep regulatory innovations, such as this one, moving forward.

The stakes are high. Thousands of solar and energy storage projects that have the potential to play a major role in reaching our Commonwealth’s carbon reduction and clean energy targets are on the line. There are currently over 700 megawatts of projects being studied for interconnection (the process by which a solar array is integrated with the energy grid to transmit power) with enough energy to power over 112,000 homes with clean energy every year. Collectively, these projects have a combined value of more than $1.5 billion.

Under the current interconnection process for allocating payment for upgrades, the cost for these  projects would be so high that it’s unlikely any project would be able to move forward. We cannot afford to risk losing out on the economic benefit,  jobs, and progress toward our carbon reduction targets by leaving these projects on the table.

That is why DPU’s recent decision to examine how to share the costs of connecting new clean energy facilities to the electric grid is a welcome step in the effort to leverage these projects to achieve our clean energy and climate goals. Meeting the Commonwealth’s decarbonization objectives will require significant investments in new electric grid infrastructure to support the demands that will be placed on the grid by electric vehicle adoption, switching to high efficiency electric heat, and increasing the supply of distributed energy resources. All of this means we have to change the way we plan for and build out the electric grid.

As we saw in Maine recently, the path to reaching our clean energy goals is filled with hurdles, and constructing new transmission lines is one of the most challenging efforts to increase our clean energy supply. If we are to have any hope of meeting our goals of delivering a cleaner, brighter future for all Bay Staters, we are going to have to make significant investments in both transmission and our local distribution system in order to diversify our power generation and meet new demands placed on the distribution system by electrifying transportation and heating.

If the Commonwealth is serious about meeting our climate goals, we need significant and immediate investments in our transmission and local power grids to deliver clean energy and prepare for electric cars and home heating. DPU’s constructive proposal calls for all customers to help fund the initial cost of infrastructure upgrades. Those customers would then be reimbursed from fees paid by interconnecting projects that are able to be constructed because of the completed upgrades. This is an equitable way for all users to share in the benefits of better grid reliability and security, and to enable the necessary grid upgrades needed to achieve our broader electrification and carbon reduction goals without assigning all of the costs to the next project in line.  It demonstrates that we have the tools to do so at our disposal, but priorities must be set to get things done so that all parties- developers, utilities and regulators- understand clear processes and can move ahead with confidence.

Meet the Author

Kaitlin Kelly O'Neill

Northeast regional director, Coalition for Community Solar Access
DPU’s steps on interconnection are encouraging, and we urge the Baker Administration to not let regulatory and administrative delays get in the way of the commonwealth’s clean energy success. Massachusetts has the potential to meet the challenges of climate change, but urgency isn’t optional.

Kaitlin Kelly O’Neill is the northeast regional director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a group of solar businesses and nonprofits.