Martin, legislators call for net-metering resolution

  • Stock image of a solar array. Courtesy of Metro Creative Graphics. Metro Creative Graphics

Combined Sources
Published: 3/16/2016 9:37:59 PM

Trying to dislodge a solar energy bill that’s been stuck in House-Senate talks for four months, Greenfield Mayor William Martin joined with other mayors and 100 House lawmakers in a pair of letters urging legislators to make it easier not harder to erect private solar-electric arrays for homes and businesses.

The officials say that ratcheting back net metering could cause irreparable harm to a solar energy industry the state is trying to grow. Net metering laws allow homes and businesses with solar panels to sell their electricity to local power companies at retail rates. Utility companies generally have resisted allowing the growth of solar arrays allowed to have net metering arrangements.

“We hope you can advance a bill to a floor vote at the earliest opportunity, in order to restore investments in our communities and allow businesses to rehire workers who lost their jobs as a result of the net metering caps,” representatives wrote in a letter Tuesday.

The letter was addressed to Reps. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, Thomas Golden of Lowell and Brad Jones of North Reading, who were charged in November with working out a compromise solar energy bill with the Senate. The conference committee has been unable to find common ground on legislation originally filed by western Mass., legislators Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru.

Energy has been a constant topic of policy talk on Beacon Hill this year. With Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth scheduled to close by 2019 and the state moving away from coal-fired plants, lawmakers are weighing their embrace of renewable energy sources with concerns over energy prices and reliability, and worries over the impacts of proposed pipelines and a possible over-dependence on natural gas.

Downing, a member of the conference committee reviewing the compromise legislation, said that while he appreciated seeing support from fellow legislators, he finds it “frustrating” that some of them had supported a more conservative House version that was approved in that chamber.

“We’d be in a far better place right now,” he said, if the views those members are airing now had been part of the original House measure that’s now part of the basis for the compromise committee’s current task.

“It’s always helpful to have people weigh in with their support,” he told The Recorder, “but it’s tricky because we’re largely confined by matters that are before the conference committee.”

Yet, he added, these expressions of public support gives negotiators more clout in maintaining strong solar power incentives.

Martin said he signed onto a separate letter Monday also signed by Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and nearly three dozen other mayors to call attention to potential solar legislation rollbacks that have had “horrible repercussions in other states.

Martin told The Recorder that cutting back on solar incentives could threaten a proposed 1.4-megawatt net metering community-solar project at Greenfield’s Millbrook Well, which would also provide electricity for town use at a fixed price.

“It’s been so successful, why would we change?” asked Martin, who has also called on Sen. President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Mark for their support.

“If we’re able to produce electricity at the local level and, so to speak, in our backyards, we’ll have less demand for natural gas to produce electricity for the commonwealth and the economic development of New England,” Martin said. “If the net metering goes from retail to wholesale (prices paid to panel owners) and we lose our solar renewable energy credit, we lose the advantage as an incentive to do this, we will be ostracizing a whole opportunity.”

In their letter, the mayors urged negotiators not to adopt the lower wholesale rate for net metering credits, saying it would discourage municipalities from embarking on solar projects in the future and create a “pernicious double standard” with power sold by utilities and valued at retail rates.

“We ask the committee to produce a final bill that allows communities to continue to host solar facilities on municipal property and to continue to make forward progress towards a clean energy future,” the mayors and towns managers wrote.

The formal legislative session is scheduled to end for the year on July 31 and, despite scant signs of progress to date, Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders hope to have a major new energy law on the books by summer.

“We support your desire to reduce costs,” the lawmakers wrote to House conferees. “However, it is important to note that net metering credits are not subsidies, but rather compensation for the value provided by solar generation exported to the grid.”

The letter, signed by Democrats and Republicans, lays out policy recommendations and warns against compensating solar projects at wholesale rates.

Critics of the state’s solar policies say the costs of building solar projects have come down substantially. They are urging lawmakers to resist locking in on “subsidies” that they say will saddle ratepayers for years, driving up already high energy costs and making it more difficult for wind energy and hydropower to take root in Massachusetts.

State House News Service and Recorder Senior Writer Richie Davis contributed to this report.


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