100% renewable energy, no net metering caps and more in Massachusetts Senate bill

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Massachusetts has been a complicated state for solar energy policy. Former Governor Deval Patrick’s (D) mandate for 1600 MW of solar was a visionary move that kick-started the first large-scale solar market in New England. This was then followed by another 1600 MW goal set by Governor Charlie Baker’s (R) administration, featuring the sophisticated and thoughtful SMART program.

At the same time, the state’s solar market has been hamstrung by restrictive caps on its net metering program, which have been ratcheted up so slowly that new caps have at times been met as soon as they are raised.

Late last night legislation passed the Massachusetts Senate which could put an end to this roadblock once and for all, by not raising, but removing the caps on net metering. But this is far from all that An Act to promote a clean energy future (S.2545) does.

It would also change Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS) so that it increases 3% every year, meaning that utilities will be required to source 49% of their electricity from renewables in 2030, 79% in 2040 and 100% in 2047. While Hawaii is the only state that currently has a 100% mandate (by 2045), the rate of this mandate would make it the 6th-most aggressive such policy in the United States.

Furthermore, the bill sets new 2030 and 2040 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets under the rubric of the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was passed in 2008. These were missing in the original bill, which has been identified by climate activists as a major hole that allowed for the state to fall behind on the path to the 80% reductions mandated by 2050 in the bill.

To meet these twin requirements, the bill contains language that enables the state’s Department of Energy Resources to procure offshore wind or other RPS-compliant renewables through solicitations, if it finds this to be in compliance with state energy policy.

 

Energy storage & demand charges

The bill would also supersize Massachusetts’ energy storage procurement mandate from the current 200 megawatt-hours (MWh) by 2020 set by the Baker Administration to 2 GW by 2025. Along with this, the bill would create targets for each utility, including municipal power companies, as well as mandating alternative compliance payments if utilities fall behind in deployment.

Utilities will not be allowed to own more than 20% of the storage they deploy, and the program will be subject to annual reporting.

Finally, the bill puts limits on the kinds of demand charges that state regulators can allow for residential customers, in light of Massachusetts’ recent approval of Eversource’s demand charge imposed on its residential customers who deploy solar.

Under the bill, demand charges are only allowed during peak hours and for customers that have meters that allow them to monitor their usage. While Sunrun has described this as “not ideal” compared to a ban on such charges, the company supports the bill, noting that it requires such charges to be “much better constructed.”

This is far from the end for S.2545. The Massachusetts House is considering similar measures in various pieces of legislation, and these will have to be reconciled with the senate legislation before a final bill can go to Governor Baker for approval.

The House may end up being the more difficult measure, as prior bills to support renewable energy including lifting net metering caps have met with obstruction by House leadership under Speaker Robert DeLeo (D).