Expiring state policies slow solar development

The SREC program has already reached its 400-megawatt capacity. Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia said his office is working on a new SREC program, but the second version will not be up and running until the end of March.

“I would say SREC is very important because without that carve-out you don’t have the foundation for solar,” he said. He said his department has created an emergency version of the program in the interim for solar installations that can prove they are financially viable.

That hasn’t helped a project planned for Westport’s landfill on Hixbridge Road.

Tony Connors, chairman of the town’s Energy Committee, said one of the installation’s backers won’t sign an agreement until he knows the precise incentives the state will be offering.

“If I were a company providing capital to fund these kinds of project and I didn’t know how much money I would get back in return, I would be skittish, too,” Connors said. “I can’t blame them for it.”

The state’s net metering program is also in jeopardy. Each utility in the state is required by law to provide net metering until it reaches a megawatt cap. National Grid already has reached its 153-megawatt cap for public projects and NStar isn’t far behind. Of the 149 megawatts NStar will net meter, just 13 are left for new projects. Together, the state’s five utilities have 17 megawatts left of their 332 megawatt allocation for public projects.

As a point of reference, the 1.4 megawatt installation on Dartmouth’s Russells Mills Road Landfill has 5,300 panels and meets 20 percent of the town’s energy needs.

John DeVillars of BlueWave Capital said he has projects in the works for Dartmouth, Rochester and Westport that will be unable to continue if the net metering cap isn’t raised.

“This is a very real ceiling on savings and carbon reductions all across the commonwealth,” DeVillars said.

His four projects operating in SouthCoast communities save towns a total of $800,000 per year and earn them nearly $40,000 in property tax payments, DeVillars said.

Dartmouth Town Administrator David Cressman said that net metering for five solar projects have brought the town $100,000 in profit for the past nine months.

“Without net metering, this isn’t a financially attractive arrangement,” he said.

Raising the state’s net metering cap could take more than a year. Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, who sits on the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said the Legislature is waiting for review of the program by DOER before it considers raising the cap.

“Ideally, we want to have a comprehensive system where we don’t have to keep raising the cap every year,” he said.

Setting a new cap is complicated business, he said. Requiring utilities to purchase too much energy from solar sources could put at risk their ability to maintain the state’s electric grid.

“I can’t wait until the day we can do 100 percent renewably energy, when we have a fuel source that doesn’t cost us any money,” Pacheco said. “Having said that, we can’t just do it all at once, we need a transition.”

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