Committee advances bills requiring solar panels on new buildings

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Ben Hellerstein

Former State Director, Environment Massachusetts

Environment Massachusetts

Two bills that would require rooftop solar panels to be installed on new residential, commercial, and government buildings were advanced by a key committee in the Legislature last week.

“Every day, a clean, renewable, limitless source of energy is shining down on the roofs of our homes and businesses,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “With this legislation, we can tap into much more of our potential for rooftop solar energy. We commend Chair Barrett, Chair Golden, and members of the committee for moving these bills forward.”

The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy gave a favorable report to the bills, which now must be approved by the Senate Ways & Means Committee before moving to a vote of the full Senate.

An Act increasing rooftop solar energy (S.1957, H.2825), filed by Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Mike Connolly, and Representative Jack Lewis, would require rooftop solar panels to be installed on new residential and commercial buildings. The proposed legislation is modeled after a similar rooftop solar policy adopted in California, as well as an ordinance passed in Watertown last year. The bill allows for exemptions if buildings do not have sufficient solar exposure.

A study conducted by the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center concluded that requiring rooftop solar panels on all new homes built in Massachusetts between 2020 and 2045 would add more than 2,300 megawatts of solar capacity, equivalent to all of the solar capacity that has been installed in Massachusetts to date. The clean energy generated by these solar panels would reduce our carbon emissions by 1.9% relative to 2015 levels.

“If builders start putting solar panels on all new homes, Massachusetts could double its solar energy capacity and reduce its carbon emissions by 1.9% by 2045,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (Acton). “This bill will help us unlock this potential, and reach the increased demand we’re seeing across the state for renewable energy growth, while bringing us closer to meeting our obligations under the Global Warming Solutions Act. I’m grateful to Chairs Barrett and Golden for reporting this bill out favorably.”

“Our legislation represents a giant leap forward in our transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy,” said Representative Mike Connolly (Cambridge). “Combating climate change will require robust solutions, so I’m excited the bill reached this legislative milestone and for the opportunity to continue working with my colleagues and stakeholders in taking this bold step forward for the planet.”

“In order to combat climate change and accelerate our transition to renewable energy in the Commonwealth, increasing our use of solar must be a part of the equation,” said Representative Jack Patrick Lewis (Framingham). “I am very happy to see this bill received a favorable report and is moving along to the Senate.”

An Act providing solar energy to state agencies (S.1995, H.2895), filed by Senator Patrick O’Connor and Representative Paul Mark, would require solar panels to be installed on the roofs of new and renovated buildings owned or operated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Several buildings recently built by state agencies include rooftop solar panels, such as the MassWildlife field headquarters in Westborough.

“It’s important that the Commonwealth practice what it preaches when it comes to environmental policy,” said Senator Patrick O’Connor (Weymouth). “As a coastal state, we need to be taking steps like this to ensure our communities remain protected.”

“We have a great opportunity to create a new standard for the Commonwealth which combines new projects and renovations with the push for a sustainable future,” said Representative Paul Mark (Peru). “I am pleased that Chair Golden and Chair Barrett have helped us push the ball forward on a legislative initiative that would expand solar capacity and illustrate our commitment to change.” 

The amount of installed solar energy capacity has increased more than 240-fold in Massachusetts since 2008. Policy uncertainty and arbitrary caps on a key solar program, net metering, have slowed the growth of solar in the last few years.

Massachusetts could generate up to 47% of its electricity from rooftop solar panels, according to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.