Massachusetts votes for higher renewable standard, solar industry still complains

By Jason Hopkins

Solar lobbyists were happy to see Massachusetts lawmakers vote for higher renewable standards, but they still attacked the legislation for not including more subsidies.

Legislators in the Massachusetts state capitol were able to reach a deal on the future of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, with both chambers agreeing to a uniform bill on Tuesday night.

State senators and representatives passed H.4857, a bill that would raise Massachusetts’ renewable energy target by 2 percent every year from 2020 though 2029, where the annual increase would then drop to one percent. The incremental targets would eventually lead The Bay State to a 40 percent renewable standard by 2030 and a 100 percent standard by 2090.

The bill awaits Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature.

The vote in Massachusetts follows a growing trend — particularly among blue states — to mandate more wind and solar power. State capitols, regulators and utility companies across the country have taken steps to gradually increase their renewable energy usage. Environmentalists donors, like billionaire Tom Steyer, have bankrolled campaign efforts to further this trend. Such calls are also growing on the federal level. Democratic socialist candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez believes its feasible for renewable technology to power the entire United States by 2035, but has not explained in detail how such a transition is possible.

Massachusetts stands unique in that in has established a pathway to 100 percent renewables — many green energy advocates are hoping other states follow suit.

Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energies Industry Association, implored the Massachusetts governor to sign the bill. His support for the legislation makes sense — a government mandate could only help his members. Not only does it call on utilities to use more solar and wind, the bill also mandates that a minimum amount of clean energy be used during high-demand hours and rescinds a utility fee on residential solar customers.

However, the comprehensive package was not wholeheartedly embraced by big solar.

“[T]he bill failed to raise the net metering caps, a move that means some Bay State businesses and communities who want to go solar are unable to do so. Across the state, solar projects, jobs and millions of dollars of investment remain stalled,” lamented Gallagher.

Solar companies were lobbying Massachusetts lawmakers to raise caps on net metering — a process where utility companies credit solar panels owners for the power they produce and send back to the grid.

Crediting solar panel owner for a higher rate than their power is worth ultimately raises electricity rates on non-solar customers, making the process controversial. Regulators established the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, which reduces incentives the more solar owners are compensated. The current system is meant to protect non-solar customers from higher costs while still promoting solar technology.

Solar companies, unsurprisingly, want credits raised so more residents are inclined to purchase the expensive modules.

While the legislation isn’t a total win for solar lobbyists, enough policies were included to win over their support.

“Nevertheless, the bill overturns a wayward ruling that would have hurt consumers and raises the state’s renewable energy goals, which is why the Governor should sign this bill,” Gallagher concluded in his official statement.

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Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Sarah Swenty

2 thoughts on “Massachusetts votes for higher renewable standard, solar industry still complains

  1. Mediocre Wind and Solar Conditions in New England

    Here is a summary of wind and solar conditions in New England, which apply to most of northern Europe as well.

    Wind and Solar Conditions in New England: New England has highly variable weather and low-medium quality wind and solar conditions. See NREL wind map and NREL solar map.

    https://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/100m_wind/awstwspd100onoff3-1.jpg
    https://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/solar/national_photovoltaic_2009-01.jpg

    Wind:
    – Wind electricity is zero about 30% of the hours of the year (it takes a wind speed of about 7 mph to start the rotors)
    – It is minimal most early mornings and most late afternoons/early evenings (peak demand hours), especially during summer
    – About 60% is generated at night, when demand is much less than during the late afternoons/early evenings
    – About 60% is generated in winter.
    – During winter, the best wind month is up to 2.5 times the worst summer month
    – New England has the lowest capacity factor (about 0.262) of any US region, except the US South.

    Solar:
    – Solar electricity is strictly a midday affair, from about 9 am to 4 pm in summer; about 10 pm to 3 pm in winter.
    – It is zero about 65% of the hours of the year, mostly at night.
    – It is minimal early mornings and late afternoons/early evenings (peak demand hours)
    – It is minimal much of the winter months
    – It is minimal for 5 – 7 consecutive days in summer and in winter.
    – It is near zero for several days with snow and ice on most of the panels.
    – It varies with variable cloudiness, which would excessively disturb distribution grids with many solar systems, as happens in southern California and southern Germany on a daily basis.
    – During summer, the best solar month is up to 4 times the worst winter month; that ratio is 6 in Germany.
    – New England has the lowest capacity factor (about 0.145, under ideal conditions) of any region in the US, except some parts of the US Northwest.

    Wind Plus Solar:
    – Wind plus solar production could be near zero, during a multi-day overcast periods with wind lulls in summer and winter, especially with snow and ice on most of the panels, as frequently happens during December, January and February. See URL.
    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/daily-shifting-of-wind-and-solar-using-battery-systems-in-summer

    If we were to rely on wind and solar for most of our electricity:

    – Massive energy storage systems (GWh-scale in case of Vermont, TWh-scale in case of New England) would be required to cover multi-day wind lulls, multi-day overcast/snowy periods, and seasonal variations. See URLs.
    – Large capacity connections with nearby grids (New York, Canada) would be required during periods of generation surpluses (strong winds, bright daytime sun) and shortages (near-zero winds, overcast weather).

  2. Would these be the same green advocates who absolutely clog the roads of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine every weekend with their SUV’s pulling boat, motorcycle, and ATV trailers? Or are these the ones who travel north every weekend to their second or third homes in the winter so that they can spend the weekend riding up an energy guzzling chairlift to ski down on snow made using hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel to operate snow guns and snow cats? Or are these the ones driving the 40 foot motorhomes that get 4 miles per gallon? Thank goodness they are concerned about their carbon footprint!

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