State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, the top Senator on energy policy, said today that he sees “a lot of common ground and room for movement” on the state’s policy on solar subsidies, as competing proposals are pending before the state Legislature.
One of the most urgent, and controversial, energy-related issues before the Legislature today is what to do about solar net metering. A cap on the financial credits given to solar energy developers for the energy they generate is currently stalling Massachusetts solar projects.
Solar developers want the cap to be lifted immediately. Utilities worry that solar subsidies are raising prices for all consumers, and they want to come up with a way to lower the subsidies.
The Senate adopted a proposal by Downing to lift the cap immediately while working on a long-term plan. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, proposed lifting the cap a little bit immediately. In the long-term, Baker wants to lower the amount paid to solar developers for the energy they generate from the higher retail rate to the lower wholesale rate.
Baker, in a recent meeting, said the only difference between his plan and the current system is how long it would take solar developers to get paid back for their costs. “I get the fact if you could have a double scoop of ice cream instead of a single scoop, you would rather have a double,” Baker said.
Downing, who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, in an interview with The Republican/MassLive.com on Friday, pushed back against Baker’s plan. Downing said the problem with the wholesale rate is it changes regularly, so obtaining financing against that rate could be difficult.
Adopting Baker’s ice cream analogy, Downing said under Baker’s proposal, “They had two thick scoops, now you give them one that from time to time could be melting or could go away altogether.”
However, Downing indicated that he is open to compromise. “Maybe there’s a way to come up with one and a half scoops that’s fixed,” Downing said. Downing added that the net metering subsidy should be part of a larger conversation about state support given to solar projects through the SREC (Solar Renewable Energy Certificates) program, as well as a federal tax subsidy given to solar projects, that is set to decrease in 2017.