100 legislators call for the lifting of Massachusetts’ net metering caps

Supported by strong state policies and favorable economics due to high electricity prices, Massachusetts was the fourth-largest market in the United States for the last three years. However, this year the market could contract significantly due to restrictive caps on net metering, which have already been reached in the service area of utility National Grid.

Multiple efforts to lift those caps over the last few years have died before making it to a vote. The latest legislative effort stalled before the winter break, with a conference committee unable to reconcile Senate legislation with a House version that would have ultimately dismantled net metering.

This legislative failure appears to not have gone over well with Massachusetts residents, and on Monday 100 legislators wrote to leadership of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, stating that their constituents were demanding action on net metering. This represents nearly 2/3 of the body’s 160 members.

“Following the vote on H.3854 in November, our offices have been contacted by constituents, municipalities and businesses who are concerned that this legislation will lead to job losses, jeopardize environmental progress, and raise electricity bills,” reads the letter. “We respectfully request that you address these critical issues in the Conference Committee, and that the committee report a bill to raise the net metering caps as expeditiously as possible.”

It is clear that this concern is being directed towards the Massachusetts House. The letter is addressed to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Brian Dempsey (D) and House Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R) as recipients, as well as the house chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, Thomas Golden (D). Senate members, who passed a bill to raise the caps which was more favorable to the solar industry, were not named.

The letter specifically addresses deficiencies in the House legislation, including a move to credit surplus generation to the grid at a wholesale rate. “Resetting all new solar projects to the wholesale net metering credit rate will make it prohibitively difficult to finance low-income, community shared solar or municipal projects,” the letter states.

These larger projects are the ones most at danger from the caps, which do not apply to systems smaller than 25 kW which use three-phase inverters. Thus while segments including community solar are in trouble, the residential PV market in Massachusetts will still benefit from net metering.

However, net metering is not the only concern, as Massachusetts is also hitting caps on the capacities allowed under various tranches of its solar renewable energy credit (SREC) system. The cap for systems over 25 kW was hit in early February, and the tranche for systems under 25 kW has less than 16 MW of capacity remaining, according to a March 14 update from state government.

The letter to legislators addressed this need as well. “Even more urgency has been added now that the Department of Energy Resources has reported that SREC II has reached full capacity, so we must make progress on a successor program,” reads the letter.

SREC II was established under the leadership of former Governor Deval Patrick (D), who dramatically increased the state’s mandate for solar. In addition to House leadership, solar advocates also have challenges at the executive level, as current Governor Charlie Baker (R) has supported moving net metering to wholesale compensation.