Jonathan Kamens asks:
Will, can you give us some idea of what the goal of H.4185 is and, if it is passed in its current form, what impact it will have on existing and new solar panel installations. Also, will it make solar panels less attractive and therefore slow the expansion of solar power in Massachusetts?
There are a number of states in which concerted lobbying and financial pressure (i.e., campaign contributions and all the other tricks lobbyists play) by entrenched fossil-fuel interests have made solar panels on people’s rooves at best less attractive and at worst completely impractical. I don’t want to see that kind of thing happening in Massachusetts!
The short answer is that I’m not sure how House 4185 will play out. It is very much in flux right now.
Here’s a longer answer: One of the major incentives for installing solar has been the “SREC” market. SREC stands for Solar Renewable Energy Credit — utilities pay people who have installed residential solar for the right to take credit for the renewable power flowing from the installation. The utilities use that credit to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard, a law we fought for in 2008, which requires utilities to meet a certain portion of their energy needs with green power. The SREC sales are income source over and above the payment from the local utility for any solar power sold back to the grid. Over the past few years SREC sales have gone as high as $0.50 per kilowatt hour.
Recently, the SREC market has tanked as there has been a glut of SRECs available. People in the solar industry whose business depends on the SREC subsidy have been actively lobbying for an approach to putting a floor under the market. At the same time, they have been active in seeking to raise the net metering cap which in some areas limits the expansion of solar. Utilities have a variety of countervailing concerns and the issues are exceedingly complex.
People (like me), who have installed solar panels on their homes, get to use the utility grid as a giant battery — pumping power into it and drawing it out when we need it. If our generation meets our needs, then our utility bills net out to close to zero and we get the battery service essentially for free. That’s a great benefit to us and to the cause of solar, but those who don’t have solar (for any number of reasons), are carrying the fixed costs of the grid for us. So, there are legitimate tensions between solar users and solar installers on the one hand and utilities and non-solar customers on the other.
As I understand it, House 4185 has become a very complex effort to strike a balance among those concerns — responding to the SREC crash and raising net-metering head room, but trying to address concerns about solar cost. Right now, there is no consensus about whether or not it is fair and I’m not sure it will pass in any form this year, given the level of confusion at this late date.