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The Argument

Should Massachusetts lift the cap on net metering to allow for greater solar energy development?

YES

Ken Gray

Amesbury mayor

Proudly designated as a Green Community by the state, Amesbury is in constant pursuit of alternative means to meet our municipal energy needs while protecting the environment and saving taxpayer dollars.

As part of that effort, we are repurposing two capped landfills to generate 9 megawatts of solar power in Amesbury. These developments could provide our city with as much as 70 percent of its annual energy needs, resulting in significant cost savings for our residential and commercial taxpayers.

Ken Gray

However, these projects have encountered a roadblock known as the net metering cap. Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the regional power grid. In 2014, as a result of legislation passed that year, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities capped net metering at 5 percent of a utility’s historical peak load for public entities. For areas serviced by National Grid, that cap was recently reached.

Historically, when the net metering cap has been reached, it has been routinely raised by the state Legislature, thus conditioning the solar industry, municipalities, and others to believe that this was standard practice. Unfortunately, the recent reluctance to raise the cap has jeopardized the completion of solar projects across Massachusetts, risking the loss of millions of dollars for municipalities and local taxpayers.

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There are reasoned arguments to oppose raising the cap, and we certainly should consider long-term alternatives to net metering. Ideally, we need a predictable and sustainable approach that supports the Commonwealth’s goals for the future growth of renewable energy.

However, until such a plan can be developed and implemented, a transitional strategy is essential. The Commonwealth must send a positive signal to the market and allow ongoing development projects to continue, enabling Massachusetts to maintain the momentum it has built as a leader in renewable energy.

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If Beacon Hill wants to bridge this gap and save projects currently in the development pipeline, the most viable short-term solution is to raise the net metering cap.

I support the solar bill recently filed by the Governor because it not only raises the cap, but it lays the groundwork for a new solar incentive program that is both longstanding and stable.

NO

Robert Rio

Reading resident, senior vice president for government affairs, Associated Industries of Massachusetts

What if the state Legislature passed a $4 billion tax increase with no measurable benefit to the vast majority of citizens? What if that same tax increase subsidized a small group of developers and customers?

Robert Rio

The outcry would be deafening. It’s no surprise, then, that many Massachusetts employers and homeowners are up in arms at the prospect of expanding the Commonwealth’s dysfunctional solar energy program.

The outcome of the debate over solar energy subsidies has tremendous implications for the state’s economic future. The current program, left unchecked, will add that same $4 billion between now and 2020 to the electric bills of those who already pay some of the highest energy costs in the nation.

While it is understandable that solar energy installers and even some participants want to keep the status quo, virtually all the savings attributable to solar installations represent a transfer from non-participating ratepayers to those who have solar, increasing costs for those who may not be able to take advantage of solar programs.

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Your electric bill includes the cost of energy itself, the amount the utility needs to maintain the electric wires down your street, and how much the utility pays to bring electricity from generation stations. When a solar customer generates more power than is usable at any time, the excess goes back to the utility to offset power the customer uses when the sun isn’t shining. That is net metering.

State law limits net metering to contain costs. Overly generous subsidies already have encouraged solar developers to reach the cap twice, and these developers now warn that their entire industry will collapse if the caps are not raised again.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts and its 4,500 member employers oppose lifting the cap until the solar program has been reformed to account for both lower solar installation costs and increasing costs to non-solar ratepayers.

Since solar users generally pay little or nothing to maintain their share of the electric grid, it falls to other ratepayers to pick up all those costs. Other states, including Connecticut, have reformed their solar programs to reduce cross-subsidies. Their solar industries have not shriveled up and died, but have instead continued to expand.

We ought to do the same in Massachusetts.


Globe correspondent John Laidler solicited opinions for this exchange. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.