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Coli/My Turn: Hardly a compromise

This is a letter we sent to Rep. Kulik, and Sens. Downing and Dempsey in regard to a bill (H4185) pending in the Legislature.

Gentlemen,

My wife Norma and I would like to go on record concerning our disappointment with the recent release of H4185 (the so-called “compromise bill”) from the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy that Sen. Downing co-chairs.

Our disappointment starts with the “back-room” approach that seems to have been taken, whereby large renewable energy developers and the utility companies were unduly represented in developing the “compromise bill” while small-scale dealers and installers were excluded. The only thing that appears to have been compromised is the future ability of motivated individuals to afford to install small-scale renewable energy systems.

Since recently writing two grant proposals to hopefully incentivize installation of a 10kW PV system on our farm, we are now very familiar with the economics of installing a PV system to cover our agricultural power needs. As a consequence, we can document that the changes proposed in virtual net metering and SRECS will significantly extend the payback time for those willing to install PV systems and ultimately make them less affordable.

Using our situation as an example, in terms of the changes proposed in net metering, the only suitable site for a PV system is adjacent to our farmhouse. There, power flows through the house electric meter. However, most of our agricultural electrical use is based at our maple sugarhouse, which has its own meter. Were this bill to pass as currently written, we would not be able to apply credits we generate to our primary source of usage. Hence, the savings (power we did not need to buy) would be taken out of the “simple payback” equation. Phasing out SRECs would do the same. Halving vitrtual net metering rates for community shared solar projects would also have a similar negative result. If the commonwealth really wants to support solar, please tell me what sense these make?

Can’t the middle class ever catch a break? Adding insult to injury, would be the minimum monthly charge for PV system owners, and the surcharge to be added to all other electric bills to pay for distribution and transmission systems. Pardon us, but why is it the ratepayers responsibility to pay all the cost for distribution and transmission systems? Isn’t that an appropriate expense to be borne, at least partly by the utilities? Would that so badly cut into profits?

We believe very strongly that the bill now before the House Ways and Means Committee is absolutely the wrong approach if the commonwealth is truly intent on fostering greater use of PV technology at least partially in a de-centralized manner. Rather than cater to the profit-making focus of the utility companies, the commonwealth should be doing everything possible to put PV systems on every suitable roof in the state by subsidizing small-scale, distributed generation using renewable technologies and either leaving in place existing incentives for distributed PV generation or, preferably, enhancing such incentives.

By so doing, in combination with energy conservation measures, we would no longer need to add electrical capacity by building huge generating plants, and/or permitting dangerous gas pipelines to pass through the state

We strongly urge Sen Downing and Rep. Mark to vote against any bill that is based on H4185 and amend/or it to keep in place ALL current incentives for installing small-scale solar PV (including SRECs and current Virtual Net Metering rates, to raise the net metering cap to 35 percent, to remove measures for Limiting Behind the Meter loads, remove the minimum monthly charge to PV system owners.

William and Norma Coli run the Blue Heron Farm in Charlemont.

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