Published on July 7th, 2011 | by Reggie Norris3
Aggressive Planning Helping Massachusetts Achieve Solar Power Success
When I was in high school, my older brother used to call home from college in Massachusetts every Sunday sounding like he had never experienced a happy moment in his life. I used to ask what was going on and he would say, “You try living through a winter here…I haven’t seen the sun in 5 months.” Being from Southern California, I was shocked that this was life on the east coast…no sun in 5 months? Inconceivable! Anyway I never asked him about it again… I didn’t want to get beaten up.
As I got older and began getting into the solar power business, naturally I assumed that California, Arizona and Nevada would be national leaders in the industry…and they are. But I was shocked to find that some of the U.S.’s other flourishing solar markets are on the east coast in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and, surprise, Massachusetts.
Reflecting on my calls with my brother, I would wonder, “how can a solar power market prosper in Massachusetts?” Looking into more deeply, I found a state that was dead set on making solar power a viable option for its citizens and had implemented a number of unique mechanisms to promote solar adoption.
First, prior to 2007, Massachusetts did not have a strong legislative incentive in place to promote clean energy. In fact, Massachusetts had implemented renewable portfolio standard (“RPS”) that required only 1% of the all retail electricity supply to be from renewable energy sources by 2003, increasing to 4% by 2009. Luckily, the state RPS was revised in 2007 by the momentous Green Communities Act of 2007 which helped put Massachusetts on the map in terms of renewable energy adoption. This new legislation required that 15% of all retail electricity sales by 2020 in the state be from renewable energy (principle among these being solar power), with an additional 1% each year thereafter.
In order to fulfill the RPS mandates, Massachusetts enacted a strong solar rebate and tax incentive program to help promote the adoption of solar power throughout the state. Massachusetts’ main solar rebate program, Commonwealth Solar — organized by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, has supported more than $65 million of solar energy investment since its inception. The Commonwealth Solar program was so popular that it quickly ran out of funds and was replaced with the Commonwealth Solar II program in 2010. As a result of both of these programs, Massachusetts has dedicated over $160 million to support renewable energy and investments in solar energy and with federal funds, this amount increases to almost $330 million. On top of this, the Patrick administration has publicly set an aggressive goal to have 250 megawatts of solar energy installed by 2017. That is a serious commitment to solar power.
As a result, Massachusetts has seen year-over-year growth of grid connected PV installations of approximately 171% and as of the end of 2010, more than 2,600 systems were installed across the state providing more than 45 MW of solar power, which is enough to power almost 7,000 homes.
The state, however, is not resting on its laurels and has seemingly taken a cue from a unique private solar financing program and implemented it on its own terms. The California-based company, One Block Off Grid (“1Bog”), has created a unique business model where they partner with a local solar installer for the purpose of organizing group deals on residential solar installations. According to their website, 1Bog “makes it easier and more affordable for homeowners to go solar by organizing group discounts, vetting solar installers, and providing you with objective information and advice along the way.” It’s a benefit for homeowners in that they can typically receive a better price on a solar electric system through a bundled discount and the solar installer is able to make multiple sales through a concentrated group.
While not exactly the same or even inspired by 1Bog, Massachusetts’ new solar program builds on similar principles from the 1Bog model and the power of group sales to help promote solar adoptions. Massachusetts’ new solar program is called Solarize Massachusetts and is operated by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. According to the Center’s website, the program “aims to round up a bunch of potential customers in a town and let a solar installer make a presentation to all of them at once. It’s a little like the website Groupon, where merchants offer a price discount to attract a large volume of customers.”
According to Patrick Cloney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the actual inspiration for the program “was born from his experience in the construction business, where he would perform work on one house in a neighborhood, and then neighbors would come to him asking for work to be done on their homes.” Under this program, participating solar installers agreed to a tiered pricing model where “the cost of the system to homeowners will depend on how many people sign up.” Cloney says that those individuals who participate in the program will save between 8%-10% off the current cost of a solar electric system, potentially rising to between 18% and 33% if more people sign up.
Currently, this program is being tested in Scituate, Winchester, Hatfield, and Harvard, four of the state’s 53 green communities, a state designation for cities and towns that have met a set of regulatory and energy use criteria. To help promote participation in the Solarize Massachusetts program, community educational meetings, called “Solar 101”, are being held to help educate residents in these pilot areas about the virtues of solar power. The results so far have been very good with strong community participation at the Solar 101 meetings.
So far, 1Bog has been enormously successful in helping to broker group discounts for consumers to enjoy the benefits of solar. Hopefully, by gathering enough commitments in these pilot green communities in the Massachusetts, the Solarize Massachusetts program will see similar success. In any event, it is healthy and encouraging to see state organizations thinking out of the box by creating unique marketing platforms to help promote the adoption of solar in Massachusetts.
Photo via Office of Governor Patrick