Solar Energy Expansion Gets Final State Approval
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- A program that aims to expand the use of solar power in Massachusetts while lowering energy rates for customers cleared its final regulatory hurdle Wednesday, paving the way for an anticipated 1,600 megawatts of new solar installations.
The Department of Public Utilities on Wednesday issued an order approving financial incentives for owners of new solar projects under the Department of Energy Resources’ Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program.
The SMART program -- a departure from the previous solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs, program -- is expected to promote solar development and save ratepayers and estimated $4.7 billion, compared to the cost of existing programs. The program is required under legislation signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in April 2016 and required DPU approval because it is designed as a utility tariff, an official from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said.
“The SMART program will allow Massachusetts to expand its leadership by significantly increasing solar capacity while lowering costs for ratepayers,” Baker said in a statement. “In addition to the benefits to ratepayers and the Commonwealth’s energy portfolio, the SMART program will be the first in the nation to offer incentives to solar projects that are paired with storage to capture the benefits of solar regardless of time of day or weather conditions.”
The SMART program provides compensation for all new solar projects under 5 megawatts in size within the territories of National Grid, Unitil and Eversource. The new program differentiates between solar projects, so an owner would receive extra compensation if the solar installation is linked to energy storage or if the solar project includes a canopy, the EEA official said.
“There is an opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of energy storage when paired with renewables and this program is designed to accomplish that,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson said. “Finding ways to reduce our peak demand and integrate more renewable energy is a top priority for this administration and utilizing solar paired with energy storage in addition to our energy efficiency programs is essential to lowering energy costs and emissions.”
Administration officials said the state currently has 2,200 megawatts of solar installed and the new SMART program is expected to support the installation of 1,600 more, an increase of almost 75 percent. With the addition, EEA said 10 percent of the state’s annual electricity needs will be met by solar resources.
In the order it issued Wednesday, the DPU rejected a proposal from distribution companies to limit the amount of bill credits an individual customer could receive through community solar projects. DOER held almost 40 working group meetings before finalizing the SMART program and DPU held public and evidentiary hearings before issuing its order.