By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- As solar energy advocates rallied on the steps of the State House Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker said at a different event that his administration will file legislation concerning the solar power net metering cap "probably sometime next week."
Details of the governor's planned legislation were not immediately available Thursday afternoon, but Baker said he expects "a robust discussion with the Legislature on that."
"The administration looks forward to filing legislation that builds upon the success and continued growth of Massachusetts' solar industry while ensuring a long-term, sustainable solar program that facilitates industry growth, minimizes ratepayer impact and achieves our goal of 1,600 megawatts by 2020," Peter Lorenz, a spokesman for the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement.
Last week, the Senate voted to raise the cap on the amount of solar power than can be sold back to the grid by consumers through what is known as net metering.
The net-metering caps are currently calculated as a percentage of the peak electrical usage, and Sen. Benjamin Downing, who proposed the provision to lift the cap to 1,600 megawatts of solar power, said the change would nearly double the size of the cap.
Downing's provision is part of an amendment to a broader climate change preparedness bill (S 1973), which passed the Senate 37-0 and has yet to be taken up by the House.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts this week spoke out against the Senate's passage of the amendment, calling it a subsidy that "could add as much as $600 million to the electric bills of Massachusetts consumers, businesses and institutions.
The group said it opposes the amendment "because virtually all the savings (except for wholesale fuel costs) attributable to solar installations are basically a transfer from non-participating ratepayers to those who have solar, increasing costs for those who may not be able to take advantage of solar programs."
"It is unconscionable for lawmakers to take money from low-income homeowners and small businesses that already pay the highest electric rates in the country and put it in the pockets of solar developers," John Regan, executive vice president of government affairs at AIM said in a statement.
A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed that the Massachusetts has the fifth highest retail electricity cost in the continental United States.
Solar power advocates, though, said that AIM considered only the cost of solar and did not take into consideration its benefits.
"Most of the studies show that net metering is totally a fair way to compensate solar owners for the value they're providing," Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts, said. "We need to get as quickly as possible to a future where we can get 100 percent of our energy from clean and renewable sources and solar is a cost-effective way to do that. The technology is here and it's been growing rapidly in Massachusetts and we should just remove any of the barriers standing in the way."
Hellerstein and about 75 people stood on the front steps of the State House on one of the hottest days of the summer to press the House to follow the Senate's lead and approve lifting the net metering cap.
"We need to make sure the solar industry remains strong, that we keep our state's commitments to combating global warming and to make sure we reach the goal of making sure every single community, every single family and every single business can benefit from solar power across Massachusetts," Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who introduced legislation to lift the net metering cap, said at the rally.
Thursday's State House rally was the tenth and final stop of Environment Massachusetts's "Soak Up the Sun Solar Tour," which made stops in Pittsfield, Worcester, Barnstable and other communities since July 20.
"It's the middle of the summer and we should be doing everything we can to soak up the rays of the sun. Instead, arbitrary caps on solar power are keeping us in the dark," Hellerstein said. "State officials should help communities take advantage of all of the environmental and economic benefits that solar brings."