Time running short on solar

With time starting to run short on Beacon Hill, solar power advocates are mounting an inside-outside campaign to convince a six-member legislative conference committee to lift the cap on net metering.

Inside the State House, the advocates played a key, behind-the-scenes role in convincing 100 House members to walk away from a previous vote slashing net metering rates and to sign a petition urging the conference committee to approve a bill similar to what the Senate has proposed. Net metering refers to the rate solar power generators are paid for the electricity they feed into the grid.

Outside the State House, solar advocates have also been making their case in a series of opinion pieces. Stephen Christy, the president and CEO of Sustainable Energy Professionals in Plainville, said the inaction on Beacon Hill has forced him to lay off his five employees. He also said the net metering cap is driving his firm out of Massachusetts and into New York.

Zaid Ashai, the CEO of Nexamp, says the opponents of solar focus strictly on the cost and ignore the many benefits. He argues that net metering shouldn’t even be viewed as a financial incentive to solar developers.

The solar advocates have also tried to undercut arguments made by utilities that solar is far too expensive. Fred Unger, president of the Heartwood Group, blames the high cost of electricity not on solar but on an outmoded utility business model. Peter Shattuck and Mark LeBel of the Acadia Center make a similar argument, suggesting that utilities are biased against solar because it reduces the need for expansion of their bread-and-butter business of transmission and distribution.

Shattuck and LeBel also point out that New York, often held out as a cost-effective alternative to Massachusetts, has eliminated its net metering cap. The two solar advocates say New York has reduced the cost of solar by curbing other solar incentives, and they say Massachusetts should do the same.

Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo want to deal with the impasse over solar before moving on to deal with an omnibus energy bill, but time is running out. The House unveils its budget later this month, a process that often leaves little room for other legislative action. Pressure is building on the solar net metering conference committee.




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