Thousands of Residents, Civic, Business Leaders Demand Legislature Expand Solar Power

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Boston – More than 100 activists and solar power supporters rallied at the State House today demanding House Speaker Robert DeLeo lift a cap that has stalled the growth of solar in towns and cities throughout the state.

Urging action before the legislative session ends Wednesday, advocates delivered letters signed by more than 1,000 civic and business leaders, as well as more than 8,000 petition signatures from Massachusetts residents, asking state officials to expand opportunities for solar power.

“Solar has been stalled for more than seven months,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “We’re missing out on opportunities to repower our communities with clean, local, renewable energy. Speaker DeLeo and other state officials must lift the solar caps before leaving for the holidays.”

In March, communities served by National Grid hit the state’s cap on net metering, which allows solar panel owners to receive fair compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid. Many businesses, local governments, and nonprofits are now unable to move forward with solar projects.

The Legislature is scheduled to hold its last formal sessions of the year Wednesday. In July, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill to lift caps on net metering. The House has not yet taken action, although Speaker DeLeo has said he intends to pass a solar bill this week.

“The people of Massachusetts are on the side of solar progress — and for good reason. Solar delivers economic, health and reliability benefits to the Commonwealth,” said Sean Garren, Northeast Regional Manager at Vote Solar. “These past months, the sun has been setting on Massachusetts solar, but the Legislature can save the day for 12,000 Bay Staters by raising the caps on net metering this week.”

Studies have consistently shown that the benefits of solar are greater than the costs. An analysis completed by the state’s Net Metering and Solar Task Force earlier this year showed that the benefits of solar exceed the costs by $600 million, even without taking into account environmental or job creation benefits.

Opponents of lifting the net metering caps have argued that solar programs are too costly, but advocates made clear the opposition’s claims are based on outdated figures and fail to take into account the benefits of solar to the electric grid and to society.

“Thanks to smart state policies, Massachusetts’ solar industry has attracted billions of dollars of private investment in our new energy infrastructure and created 12,000 jobs in the Commonwealth,” said Zaid Ashai, Chairman and CEO of Nexamp, a Boston-based solar company. “But the net metering caps are holding us back. It’s time to uncap solar and allow the industry to thrive.”

“The sun will soon set on solar job creation in Massachusetts if lawmakers don’t turn up the heat,” said Matt Lash, Director of Business Development for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103. “Generally, 20 electricians are hired per megawatt of solar installed.  The 7,500 members of IBEW Local 103 are already suffering mass job loss while the construction industry still recovers from the Great Recession. Make no mistake: House lawmakers and Gov. Baker can save the 12,000 jobs supported by solar and thousands more that could be created by raising net metering caps.”

The petitions delivered today, with more than 8,000 signatures, urged state officials to lift the net metering caps and expand opportunities for solar power.

In addition, participants delivered letters signed by civic and business leaders asking state officials to set a goal of getting 20 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity from solar by 2025. More than 1,000 leaders signed the letters, including:

Advocates noted that not all of the proposals on the table would foster the growth of solar energy over the long term. For instance, proposals to significantly reduce the compensation that many types of solar projects receive under net metering, like Governor Charlie Baker’s bill, would make it harder for many, including renters and residents of low-income communities, to access the benefits of solar.

“Speaker DeLeo and other leaders have a clear choice: will Massachusetts remain a clean energy leader or not?” said Mark Sandeen, president of MassSolar. “The people of Massachusetts deserve an energy policy that accelerates the growth of local, clean sources of power.”

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. Solar has grown more than 200-fold in Massachusetts since 2006.

Another reason for urgency is the expiration of a key federal incentive for solar, the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), at the end of 2016. The window to take advantage of this incentive is closing, as solar projects can take 12 months or more to reach completion.

“Solar is cleaning up our air and water and strengthening our communities — and it enjoys broad public support,” concluded Hellerstein. “Speaker DeLeo, now is the time to remove the obstacles standing in the way of solar.”