Jon Chesto Managing Editor,
Print- Boston Business Journal
June 16, 2014
Oftentimes, the best route to a compromise on Beacon Hill is to ensure that the legislation being cooked up represents roughly half of one side’s proposals, and half of the other’s.
And then there’s another way: Toss out the competing bills, go back to the table and start anew.
That’s essentially what happened to bring two rival sides — the solar industry and environmentalists, and utility executives — together in a fight over the future of solar power in the state. The two sides each backed quite different bills earlier this year. But last week, a new bill from Rep. Frank Smizik emerged from the Legislature’s utilities and energy committee after three months of negotiations, a bill that looked almost nothing like either of its predecessor bills.
The debate has focused on what’s known as net metering — the credits that solar panel owners get for sending excess solar power off-site and into the region’s electric grid. That’s one of the state’s two key subsidies to encourage solar development here. The new bill would also address the other subsidy program — solar renewable energy certificates, aka SRECs, that can be sold to utilities to help them reach renewable energy mandates — by replacing it over the next two years with a more stable tariff system that phases out over time. While the SREC program has had its problems, its pending replacement is surprising given the fact that the Patrick administration just completed a lengthy update of the program.
Both sides — the solar folks and the utility folks — come out ahead with aspects of this proposal. The Legislature previously capped the use of net metering to no more than 3 percent of an electric utility’s power base, with parallel limits established for public-sector and private solar projects. Those caps have either been reached or are so close that the likelihood of them getting reached has put a chill on solar development in the state. Read more