Demand charge decision looms in Massachusetts

Aug. 31 is D-Day for Massachusetts solar customers.

That’s when the state’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) will close the public comments period on Eversource’s proposed demand charges solely on solar customers, on top of the rate increase they’re asking all customers to pay. So if you own a solar-electric system in the Bay State, you have three days to let your voices be heard.

Eversource calls the charge a “monthly minimum reliability contribution (MMRC),” which might be an apt description if the charge was voluntary (an actual “contribution”). Instead, it’s a mandatory charge that the utility says is designed to prevent a cost shift from solar customer to non-solar customers in the form of grid upkeep. For new residential net-metering customers, the MMRC range is $2.12/kW to $3.04/kW, varying by tariff and service area.

As pv magazine has reported before, the cost-shift argument is at best an issue limited to states with solar penetration rates of around 10%. In all other cases, the case for a cost shift is disingenuous, if not an outright lie -designed to split solar ratepayers from non-solar ratepayers.

The solar industry and ratepayer advocates oppose demand charges on the grounds that they are confusing for consumers and render solar uneconomical in many cases. If payback times on solar installations become too long, it could discourage ratepayers from putting solar on their roofs. This in turn could devastate an industry that employs 14,582 people in Massachusetts.

Opposition to Eversource’s proposal has been both widespread and fierce, including statements by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and more than 100 current solar ratepayers.

“In seeking to implement mandatory demand charges on all new solar customers, Eversource threatens to undermine the ability of Massachusetts residents to choose solar,” said Evan Dube, senior director of public policy for Sunrun. “Demand charges are extraordinarily confusing for homeowners, which is why nearly all such proposals by investor owned utilities have been rejected or withdrawn.”

The deadline for comments is Aug. 31.