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Amid uncertainty, Mass. solar industry grows more slowly

With Massachusetts lawmakers reconsidering state support for the solar industry, the sector’s rapid growth is likely to come to a halt this year in Massachusetts, according to a market research company.

A report prepared by GTM Research predicts that total solar panel installations will drop 1.2 percent this year after several years of rapid growth. Last year, the company’s data says Massachusetts homes, businesses, nonprofits, and governments installed 308 megawatts of solar power, a number set to drop to 304 megawatts this year.

The drop reflects concerns over “challenges and regulatory uncertainty” facing the sector in the Bay State, according to Cory Honeyman, an analyst with GTM Research. After years of solar energy credit programs and a “net metering” policy that let solar panel owners sell their electricity back onto the grid at a good price, the future of those policies is in question.

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Although households are predicted to increase solar power generation by 34 percent this year, big customers like businesses and towns will have about 34 percent fewer installations, according to GTM. Like in other states, Massachusetts households don’t install nearly as many solar panels as non-residential customers do, so the total amount of power generated by panels installed this year is expected to shrink.

That’s a sharp turnabout from past years. In 2014, the amount of solar capacity added here grew 28 percent, GTM stats show. From 2012 to 2013, the number of new installations nearly doubled.

Earlier this year, solar developers hit a state-imposed cap on big projects in the parts of central and western Massachusetts served by National Grid. The cap had previously been raised to give state lawmakers breathing room, but the Legislature is only now considering proposals to support the industry after a task force of energy companies and consumer groups failed to come to consensus around any particular policies.

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Solar industry growth slows
GTM Research projects less solar electricity will be added to the grid in 2015.
Year Solar power added (megawatts)
2010 22
2011 31
2012 134
2013 240
2014 308
2015 304
SOURCE:

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.