Inaction is driving solar firm out of Mass

Industry on hold waiting for Beacon Hill

THERE ARE 400 SOLAR COMPANIES working throughout the value chain in Massachusetts and I’m proud to own one of them. When I started my business, Sustainable Energy Professionals (SEP), our state had good policies that made starting a business here in my home state the right move for me. In the summer of 2013, realizing that my skills in land development and civil engineering could be re-invented in the solar industry, Sustainable Energy Professionals was born. I formed the company in December 2014, after 18 months of research and education on the solar industry. To date, we’ve hired five full and part-time employees along with two subcontractors in Massachusetts and 3 subcontractors in New York. Today, I am less certain that starting my business here in Massachusetts was a good idea.

Since the company’s inception, we’ve had to deal with policy uncertainties time and again. Twice, we’ve had to deal with net metering caps being met. Net metering is a key policy that makes going solar economical. It enables solar generators to sell excess energy they produce back to the grid at the retail rate in residential and small commercial applications. With larger projects, net metering allows for cities, towns, and large private companies to purchase credits and save enormous amounts of money over the 25-year life of the projects. Now, with the net metering cap hit again and a key incentive program known as the Solar Renewable Energy Credit exhausted, the entire industry is on hold waiting for the Legislature to act on a solar bill.

Solar net metering benefits all ratepayers, while also creating cleaner air and local economic development. Massachusetts state law currently has an arbitrary cap on the amount of net metered solar that residents and businesses can install on rooftops across the state. We reached the cap in some service areas, including the National Grid territory, over a year ago.

One year is a long time for a small business to have to wait. I’ve had to lay off my entire staff of five employees. In 2015, we had $500,000 revenue projected and an additional $225,000 contracts for new business – today, our work in Massachusetts has dwindled to nothing. How much longer will we have to wait for the Legislature to act?

We’re running out of time. In the fall of 2014, my company began ground operations in New York because of the instability in Massachusetts. We’ll be closing on over 10 megawatts of projects in New York this year, and without the viable New York market the future of the company would be in jeopardy.

This state is my home, but the Legislature’s failure to act has forced me to take my business elsewhere. I’m sure other businesses in Massachusetts are thinking the same. I want to be able to go back to my customers’ stalled projects, hire back my employees, and begin generating local economic development right here in Massachusetts. I just hope the day comes sooner rather than later.

Meet the Author

Stephen Christy

President and CEO, Sustainable Energy Professionals
Solar is part of our state’s  identity, and Massachusetts has been my home for 45 years. There are 15,000 solar workers employed here, making it second to California in terms of solar jobs. Thanks to great incentive programs and good legislation, the industry has been growing here for the past eight years – and has been bringing good things to the people of Massachusetts, including jobs, energy choice, economic development, and clean energy. The state should continue to prioritize business certainty, consumer choice, and cleaner air, or risk losing a $1.2 billion industry to New York and beyond.

Stephen Christy is president and CEO of Sustainable Energy Professionals in Plainville.