Massachusetts ranked second in terms of total solar jobs again, but will the good times last?
It will likely depend on what happens on Beacon Hill.
The Solar Foundation released a report on Wednesday showing that an estimated 15,100 people worked in the state’s solar industry in 2015, up from 9,400 in the previous year. That put Massachusetts in second place behind California in total solar workers, and fifth as measured by solar jobs per capita.
But it’s a bittersweet victory for the state’s solar industry, which finds itself at a crossroads as state lawmakers debate the future of the generous incentives in place for encouraging solar panel installations here.
Just last week, the state Department of Energy Resources informed solar industry insiders that a cap has been hit for what are known as solar energy renewable certificates — credits that are sold by solar panel owners and purchased by utilities to meet the state’s mandatory renewable energy purchase levels.
That’s one of two big incentives that the state offers to encourage the industry’s growth. The other, net metering, is facing its own problems. Net metering allows solar panel owners to be reimbursed for excess energy they send out onto the grid. But there are caps for that as well, at least in terms of how much utilities have to reimburse at the retail rate. The limits were hit last year in National Grid’s territory.
Homeowners and many small businesses are, for now, exempt from the caps to both programs.
The fate of net metering is one of the most pressing issues facing the state Legislature right now. Lawmakers tried but failed to reach a compromise in November, and the issue remains stuck in a conference committee. The House is pushing a bill that favors the state’s electric utilities, while Senate leaders are advocating for a pro-solar bill.
Eversource Energy and National Grid argue that the current system adds too much to the electric rates for people and businesses who don’t use solar power.
Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Washington-based Solar Foundation, said solar employment in a particular state can be significantly affected by changes or uncertainty in state policies.
“The data have consistently shown that more restrictive policy environments can slow or even stop solar market activity among certain market segments,” Luecke said in an email.