Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is not beating around the bush when it comes to making his state the greenest in the nation. The Green Communities Act he pushed in 2008 started Massachusetts down the road of expanded conservation and investment in renewable energy. One of his current goals is to generate 1,600 megawatts of solar energy statewide by 2020.
In order to meet such an ambitious target, the Patrick plan requires utilities and other big energy consumers to get a certain amount of their power from solar producers, which can range from large-scale farms to single-family residences with rooftop installations. This would not only force utilities to diversify their entrenched transmission networks, but also would incentivize more homeowners and small businesses to become players in the solar market, further eroding the profits to which utilities have become accustomed.
As one might expect, the Massachusetts utility industry is none too pleased. And when we say “industry,” we’re really talking about Northeast Utilities System, far and away the state’s largest energy provider and among the largest in New England. With Patrick’s plan on the verge of achieving the critical mass needed to pass the state legislature, NU and others have begun to raise the familiar, unjustified spectre of increased consumer rates in order to halt solar progress.
Like the litany of laments heard from other investor-owned utilities in response to the rooftop solar movement, NU’s argument makes it sound like they care about ratepayers. In reality, they are trying to mask their true motivation: money.
Investor-owned utilities have no interest in supporting efficient renewable energy deployment like rooftop solar, and they’ll fight any and all legislation that requires them to do so. In a press release on the recent events in Massachusetts, The Alliance for Solar Choice, a coalition of solar energy companies, points out that NU’s own analysis shows they have almost $1 billion invested in transmission projects over the next four years. Meanwhile, solar energy makes up just a tiny fraction of NU’s internal energy generation.
The more NU ratepayers turn toward solar for their homes and businesses, the less return the utility stands to receive from their investment in a centralized infrastructure. And ratepayers will end up footing the bill for NU’s hubris through the rate hikes similar to those NU is now using to push back on the Patrick plan. Hypocrisy at its finest.
The good news is that Governor Patrick and Massachusetts lawmakers continue to demonstrate support for investing in today and our future. That’s because they understand what’s at stake: the future of our health, our environment, and the freedom of choice that every American consumer deserves. It’s a shame that investor-owned utilities like NU don’t share their vision.
Massachusetts image via Shutterstock