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Agreement Between Solar Industry & Utilities?

Originally published on PV Solar Report.
By Rosana Francescato

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The Alliance for Solar Choice says it supports common ground with utilities in Massachusetts. At a public hearing, TASC and other parties discuss language for a comprehensive agreement between solar industry and utilities.

Updated 6/13/14 to clarify language on SRECs and virtual net metering.

Something odd is happening in Massachusetts. Utilities and solar advocates are finding common ground.

The sentiment seems to be spreading along the East Coast, if the New York Solar Summit is any indication.

But while the recent summit discussed the theme in general terms, something concrete is taking shape in Massachusetts. In a statement yesterday, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) elaborated on what’s going on there.

TASC announced yesterday that it would be participating with other solar industry groups, Massachusetts utilities, and the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) in a public briefing on common-ground language for the future of solar in Massachusetts. TASC said it supports this language — the first instance of comprehensive agreement between the solar industry and utilities.

While details remain to be determined, the language is already under consideration with the Joint Committee on Telecom, Utilities and Energy Committee for movement into legislation.

The language includes four key components:

Remove Massachusetts’ net metering cap. This one is big. Net metering is a cornerstone solar policy that gives rooftop solar customers retail credit for the surplus energy they put back on the grid. Currently, a cap on the number of customers that can participate in net metering threatens continued solar growth in Massachusetts. The language under consideration removes this cap. If that happens, it could set a great precedent for the rest of the country.

Implement broad rate reform grounded in minimum bills for all customers. The language supports minimum bills for all customers. Minimum bills create a floor on all customers’ electric bills, rather than singling out specific groups with discriminatory, additional charges. They treat solar customers no differently than any other energy-conscious customers — in other words, using solar is no different from consuming less energy because you turn off the lights or go on vacation. This item is interesting in light of the extra charges being levied or threatened for solar customers around the country.

Transition the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program to a long-term, stable, performance-based incentive. The new program is modeled after other successful state programs where the incentives step down over time as solar costs continue to drop. The transition will occur over 18 months, giving market participants time to adopt to the new program.

Provide a sustainable framework for virtual net metering. Virtual metering refers to solar energy generated at a separate site from customers’ electric meters. While TASC notes that this is “entirely different from net metering,” under virtual net metering customers can offset their electric bills with the credits from that off-site solar. The proposed language creates a sustainable framework for virtual metering so that Massachusetts can continue to encourage solar growth and customer choice.

Will the unusual goings-on in Massachusetts set a precedent for the rest of the country? TASC suggests that it will: “While high-pitched battles between utilities and the solar industry continue across the country, Massachusetts has found a collaborative path forward,” said TASC President and Sunrun VP of Public Policy Bryan Miller. “This precedential language is consistent with Massachusetts’ long history of leadership and innovation.”

 
 
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