Vote Solar offers SMART improvements


With the next round of project changes to the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program looming, vote solar has released a report entitled Clouds Over the Solar Industry in Massachusetts: Inconsistent Policy Slows Growth. The report outlines the state’s historically volatile solar market, looking at issues that have stalled what was a top solar state nationally and the changes that should be made to ensure the success of the SMART program.

The theme of the Massachusetts market historically is that it has been a victim of its own success, or rather a victim of its own potential. While SMART was developed with the intention of, as Vote Solar puts it, “Jump-starting a nascent market and create a long-term sustainable incentive program that promotes cost-effective solar development in Massachusetts,” policymakers failed to recognize the unstable foundation the program was built upon. By the time of the program’s inception, utilities in the state had reached their net metering caps and hundreds of MW of projects lay in languish, which had a profound impact on the industry.

The launch of the SMART program took place against a backdrop of challenges for the solar industry that have continued to mount – uncertainty over new state regulations, Eversource’s rate case decision, the caps on net metering, and the federal government’s tariffs on solar equipment. The result? Leading up to the SMART program, Massachusetts had seen a 50 percent decline in new solar installations, predominantly in the residential sector, and the state’s solar workforce has shrunk by about 30 percent, shedding around 4,372 jobs between 2015 and 2018.

What came next was a perfect storm: the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) received more than 2,500 applications in the first week alone. One week later, applications for 600 MW had been submitted, representing almost 40% of the program’s total capacity.

Outside of just addressing the issues hampering the Massachusetts solar market, Vote Solar released four points of policy recommendations in order to ensure the success of SMART in final implementation.

These policy recommendations are:

  1. The immediate expansion of the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program – to 4,800 MW, an increase of 3,200 MW – in order to meet the Commonwealth’s clean energy deployment goals under the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and give solar workers confidence in a few years of consistent policy.
  2. Effective integration of energy storage and other distributed energy resources into the SMART program and utility grid planning to maximize both resilience and carbon reduction benefits of solar.
  3. Strong provisions for low-income access and equitable participation in the state’s growing clean energy economy through mechanisms such as contract-less community solar, focused incentive programs, and processes for initial and ongoing public stakeholder input in program design.
  4. Enable cities and towns, businesses and affordable housing to choose solar by addressing the net metering caps and SMART program design holding these projects back.

If you’re a frequent reader of pv magazine these four policy points may feel familiar to you. It’s because nearly every time we hear about new policy or revisions of old policy, the changers are made to include one or more of these points. They’re like the four pillars of good state-level solar policy.

The raising of the deployment goals will help to ensure no future development backups that, as we saw earlier, can lead to violent market contraction. Secondly, however, increased deployment will also move the state towards achieving the SMART targets of 35% of state electricity coming from renewables by 2030 and an 80% reduction in carbon emissions also by 2050, both of which the state is currently projected to fall short of.

Integrating energy storage is just the next evolution of solar as a generating resource and an essential element to any dream of goal of a renewably-powered grid. Low-income and community solar initiatives ensure that citizens are given equal access on some level to solar generation, helping to avoid the disproportionate adoption skewed away from minority communities and lower0-income communities. Finally, we saw the hand that net metering caps played in the industry retraction Massachusetts dove into starting in 2014, restructuring or removing these caps can help to ensure no sudden halt in development.

While none of these policy recommendations are necessarily groundbreaking, that is not said to curb their importance. They would not be so popular if they weren’t sound and will hopefully be integrated into SMART in some capacity in order for Massachusetts to get back to being a leader in solar.

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