Community leaders say solar is working for low-income families

Media Contacts
Ben Hellerstein

Former State Director, Environment Massachusetts

Letter to state officials comes as House prepares to take up solar legislation

Environment Massachusetts

Boston — With the Legislature poised to make major decisions on the future of solar energy, leaders from low-income communities and religious congregations released a letter urging officials to continue the rapid growth of solar and ensure that its benefits are available to all.

The letter, signed by more than 90 community leaders, faith and religious leaders, community development organizations, and academics, points to the many benefits that solar brings to low-income communities and urges officials to reject a Baker administration proposal to slash compensation for solar energy. It comes less than a week after Speaker Robert DeLeo announced the House would take up solar legislation by mid-November.

“Solar is helping low-income families to reduce their electric bills, and it’s helping social service organizations to put more of their resources into helping their communities,” said David McMahon, Co-Executive Director of Dismas House and Project Coordinator for the Worcester Green Low-Income Housing Coalition. “We need to lift the net metering caps immediately to ensure that the benefits of solar are available to people from all walks of life. And we should oppose efforts to cut the compensation available for solar projects under net metering, which would reduce access to solar for low-income communities.”

In March, a cap on a key solar program known as net metering was hit for more than 170 Massachusetts communities. Net metering allows for full and fair compensation for the electricity that solar panels provide to the grid.

The cap has prevented many families, nonprofits, businesses, and local governments from accessing the benefits of solar energy. Utility companies such as Eversource and National Grid have opposed lifting the net metering cap, claiming that solar is detrimental to low-income residents and other ratepayers.

In contrast, today’s letter describes several ways in which solar is benefitting low-income communities. Community solar projects are expanding access to solar energy in communities of limited resources, helping families to reduce their electric bills and protect themselves from spikes in the price of fossil fuels.

The letter describes other ways that solar benefits low-income communities, by:

  • Reducing harmful air pollution and global warming emissions;
  • Creating employment opportunities for low-income residents in the state’s rapidly growing solar industry;
  • Reducing operating costs for affordable housing developments, community organizations, and food banks, making more resources available for serving their communities; and
  • Making utility bills more affordable for everyone by cutting down on peak electricity prices.

“Across Massachusetts, solar energy is enabling people from all walks of life to produce their own clean, renewable power, cutting down on harmful air pollution while reducing their electricity bills,” said Isaac Baker, Co-Director of Co-op Power’s Community Solar Program. “Expanding solar energy will bring more benefits to low-income communities, but the caps on net metering are holding us back.”

“Faith communities across Massachusetts are rising up to combat climate change and economic inequality,” said Laura Wagner, a clinical social worker and Executive Director of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action. “By ensuring all communities, including renters and people of modest means, can access solar energy, we can bring the benefits of the green economy home.”

This summer, Environment Massachusetts organized the “Soak Up the Sun” Tour, visiting 10 communities across the state to bring attention to the impacts of the net metering caps. Local officials, solar business owners, and nonprofit leaders spoke about proposed solar projects that have stalled because of the caps.

The State Senate voted unanimously to lift the caps on net metering in July. The House has not yet taken action, but Speaker Robert DeLeo said last Friday that he expects the House to vote on a solar bill in the next few weeks.

“Solar is helping Massachusetts continue to be a leader in the green economy while reducing electricity costs and promoting economic growth in communities like Holyoke,” said State Representative Aaron Vega (Holyoke). “I’m proud to stand up for policies that make solar accessible for people from all walks of life, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.”

Governor Charlie Baker has introduced a separate bill to address the solar caps, but his bill would lift the caps by only a small amount and would sharply reduce the compensation for solar energy, including energy produced by community solar projects and solar installations serving low-income communities.

Advocates said today that the Governor’s bill would slow the growth of solar and make it harder for low-income communities to access its benefits. They urged the Legislature to pass a bill that provides full and fair compensation for solar energy.

“For renters, residents of low-income housing, and municipalities, our state’s innovative solar policies create opportunities for saving money, reducing pollution and creating local jobs,” said Joel Wool, Energy Advocate with Clean Water Action. “Duplicitous policy proposals by utility companies and by Governor Baker would make it harder for these communities to go solar and to receive the same bill benefits — real energy justice would empower communities.”

Solar energy has grown more than 200-fold in Massachusetts since 2006. Last year, Massachusetts was fourth in the nation for the amount of solar energy installed, with enough solar added to the grid to power 50,000 homes with clean energy.

A growing number of community and business leaders have urged the Baker administration to set its sights higher for solar energy. More than 340 city and town officials and 560 small business leaders have called for a goal of getting 20% of Massachusetts’ electricity from solar power by 2025.

“Across Massachusetts, people from all walks of life are eager to go solar,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “Our state’s leaders should ensure that clean, local, renewable energy is available to all.”

Click here to view the letter.