The New Massachusetts Clean Energy Bill: Solar Advocates Left Waiting for the Next Installment

solar photo for blog (A5585845x7A575)

On July 31, 2018, the final day of its formal session, the Massachusetts legislature passed H. 4857, An Act to Advance Clean Energy, which Governor Baker signed into law on August 9.

The bill represents several important steps forward in the Commonwealth’s path toward a clean energy future. Highlights of the bill include the following:

  • Renewable Portfolio Standards.  From 2020 through the end of 2029, retail electricity suppliers must increase the amount of energy procured from renewables by 2% per year, resulting in a requirement that retail electricity suppliers procure 35% of their energy from renewables by 2030.  (Previously, there was a 1% increase per year, resulting in a 25% standard for 2030.)
  • Clean Peak Standard. Massachusetts will become the first state in the nation to implement a so-called “clean peak standard,” which will provide incentives for the use of clean energy during periods of peak energy consumption. Beginning in 2019, and pursuant to standards and processes yet-to-be developed by the Department of Energy Resources (“DOER”), retail electricity suppliers will be required to “provide a minimum percentage of kilowatt-hour sales to end-use customers… from clean peak resources,” meaning resources that are not only “clean” but also delivered during peak consumption periods.
  • Storage Target Goal. Through policy-making authority granted to DOER, Massachusetts will attempt to store 1,000 megawatt-hours (“MWh”) of energy by 2025.
  • Mobile Battery Research. The bill charges DOER with studying “the feasibility of a mobile battery storage system to serve as a mobile emergency relief system that can respond to extreme weather events or power outages.”
  • Offshore Wind. DOER has the authority to require electric distribution companies to procure 1,600 MWh of offshore wind energy in addition to the 1,600 MWh previously prescribed in 2016 legislation.
  • Qualifying Technologies for Incentive Programs. Additional types of technologies, “including energy storage and other active demand management technologies and strategic electrification,” are eligible for energy efficiency incentive programs.

Despite these advances, many clean energy stakeholders, especially those in the solar industry, are judging the bill more by what was left out than by what made it in. Most notably, the bill does not increase the caps on “net metering,” the mechanism by which solar facility owners receive credit for electricity sent to the grid in excess of the electricity used on site.  The current caps have hindered the solar industry in continuing to make a compelling case for customers to install solar facilities on their buildings in non-residential settings.  The absence of any increase to net metering caps stands in stark contrast to the Senate version of the bill, which would have eliminated the caps altogether.

The final bill fell short of its Senate-passed predecessor in two other respects concerning solar. (It should be noted that the Senate version provided more ambitious clean energy policies in almost every area, not just solar.)  First, the final bill dropped provisions that would have delayed the imposition of a new charge on solar net metering customers known as a “minimum monthly reliability contribution,” settling instead for restrictions concerning customer notification of the charge.  Second, the final bill eliminated language that would have helped expand solar access to lower-income households by providing public housing residents with net metering reimbursements at full retail rates and removing limitations on the sharing of net metering credits by geographic “load zones.”

For clean energy advocates, there is little dispute that the recent bill is a step in the right direction, although the size and boldness of that step is subject to varying characterizations.

About Spencer Holland

Spencer is an associate in the Firm’s Land Use and Environmental Law Group and the Public and Municipal Law Group. The focus of Spencer’s practice is representing clients buying, selling, financing, and leasing commercial real estate. He represents a diverse group of clients, including startups, municipalities, life science companies, educational institutions, and regional developers. His experience includes the acquisition and disposition of commercial, industrial, residential, and mixed-use properties, as well as the negotiation of office, retail, and solar leases. Spencer also has experience advising clients on a broad range of land use matters, including zoning, permitting, and title issues.
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