Redesign of Massachusetts' incentive system dies in legislature, net metering caps raised slightly

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On the last day of the legislative session in the U.S. state of Massachusetts, H4185 died a quiet death in the House Ways and Means Committee, failing to make it to a vote. This was a surprising end for the high-profile bill, which was crafted in a collaboration between the state’s utilities, solar and clean energy industries and the administration of Governor Deval Patrick.

H4185 would have made a number of significant changes to state policies in Massachusetts, which is the nation’s fourth-largest solar market. These include moving the state from an incentive system based on tradeable solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) to a fixed declining block grant structure. It also would have enshrined Governor Patrick’s regulatory goal of installing 1.6 GW of solar PV in the state by 2020 in law.

“We missed an opportunity last week to really advance the ball and set an example that other states can follow to reach common ground between the utilities and the solar industry,” said Borrego Solar VP of Strategy and Business Development Dan Berwick, who also serves as chair of the Massachusetts committee of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

One major piece of the legislation did survive, but in a greatly reduced form. H4185 would have removed the caps on net metered systems, and instead a slight increase to the caps was incorporated into a bill to include thermal technologies in state renewable energy mandates. This bill has passed the legislature and is likely to be signed by Governor Patrick.

As a result, the state’s net metering caps will increase from 3% of peak load to 5% for public installations, and to 4% for private installations. This will free up public installations in the service areas of utilities that have already hit the caps.

New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC) says that this was a critical move. “We expected to hit the other caps by the end of the year,” notes NECEC VP of Policy and Government Affairs Janet Gail Besser. This is the fourth time that Massachusetts has raised its net metering caps.

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