By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 16, 2018.....Clamoring for "long-term stable growth" in their sector, solar industry workers rallied Wednesday for changes that would make it easier and more economical for people to support renewable energy.
After some boom years, employment in the Massachusetts solar industry has dipped, losing about 3,000 jobs in the past two years. The industry now employs 11,500 people in Massachusetts.
"This is still in the early frames of our growth as an industry," said Zaid Ashai, chairman and CEO of Nexamp, a solar company. He told supporters outside the State House, "It needs to be long-term stable growth."
Rep. Carmine Gentile, a Sudbury Democrat who joined demonstrators rallying for solar outside the State House Wednesday morning, was not optimistic about their policy goals making it into law this session.
"Hope springs eternal," Gentile told the News Service. He said the fact that the Legislature passed an omnibus energy diversification law two years ago has "drawn our focus to other areas" as lawmakers approach the July 31 end of formal sessions.
The solar workers lobbied as the House prepared to pass a roughly $500 million bill to support another sector - the life sciences industry.
Solar industry supporters want to again lift the cap on net-metering, which allows solar energy producers to receive more lucrative rates for the electricity they produce. There is a statutory cap on the amount of net-metering available to businesses and municipalities, and that cap has been hit in the National Grid service area, according to advocates.
The solar activists also want to reverse a Department of Public Utilities (DPU) decision granting Eversource the ability to charge new fees on new solar customers starting next year. Solar customers still use the electrical grid even if their electricity production exceeds the amount of power they use.
"We support renewable energy and promote a sustainable model for future solar development," said Eversource spokesman Michael Durand. "Currently, in addition to high subsidies paid to solar developers, costs associated with maintaining the local electric grid are unfairly borne by our non-solar customers. Which is why our regulators approved changes to our rates that will ensure developers of solar facilities installed after the end of this year will contribute to the cost of the maintenance and upgrade work that benefits every customer."
Those calling for more support for sun-generated electricity also oppose a proposal the utilities put before the DPU to put a limit on the benefits of community-based solar. Renters and others can lower their utility bills through community-based solar, even if they don't have real estate of their own.
Mark Sylvia, managing director of people and civic engagement for Blue Wave, a solar developer and financer, said that renters can buy net metering credits from a solar project miles away from their homes as long as they are in their utility territory.
Sean Garren, Northeast senior director at Vote Solar, said utilities have asked the DPU to limit the discounts available to customers through community-based solar. Vote Solar wants those participating in community-based solar to completely offset their bills, and he said Attorney General Maura Healey has backed a similar approach.
The New England Power Generators Association, which represents solar producers along with fossil-fuel plants, believes solar is a "phenomenal resource," but opposes large carve-outs in the power market, according to Dan Dolan, the association's president, who said changes should be made to the transportation sector to replicate the environmentally friendly gains made in the electricity sector, which operates under a regional cap and trade system.
"I have real concerns with carving out wider and wider swaths of the electricity market for any individual resource," Dolan said in an email. "If there is interest in continuing the tremendous progress made on carbon emissions reductions in the electricity industry, the best way to do so would be to put a meaningful price on those emissions and let the market work. A similar approach needs to occur on the transportation side concurrently."
Keisha Perez, sales manager for Sunrun, a publicly traded solar company, said she joined the solar industry because she wanted to help her community and "create a bright future for my children."
"I love helping our customers save money," Perez told other solar supporters Wednesday.