I grew up in Massachusetts, went away for school, spent my 20s exploring other parts of the country, and came back home to settle down and start a family. Working in the energy industry, I closely follow state policy from a professional perspective. However, my personal and extracurricular worlds have also now become entwined in the ongoing soap opera that is the Massachusetts solar policy and its politics: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
For the first 8 years of home ownership, I lived in a condo, where I could not control what was done with the exterior of the structure. I would have loved to install solar while there, but it was not possible due to the building restrictions. I did get the condo association to undertake an energy audit with the local utility, which resulted in several thousands of dollars of savings on our condo fees. This was before Community Solar came into being, which has since flourished in Massachusetts and is perfect for the condo/apartment dweller who can’t install on-site panels.
Two years ago, my family moved into our own house in Franklin, Massachusetts. Literally, the first day we arrived, we had an energy audit and I contacted a solar company to get an estimate for a rooftop array. Without any utility bill history, the company had to estimate our electricity usage based on average square footage values and created a proposal. Knowing that our household would be more efficient than the average, I decided to hold off until we got some real data for a year to avoid unnecessarily overbuilding the solar. It turned out that we use about half the electricity of a typical house our size in our area (according to our OPower report), so it was a good thing we didn’t take the plunge right away.
Worth the Wait
After a year of data collection, I started compiling the plethora of mail offers that we received from various solar companies in preparation for getting some new quotes. Then, I heard about the new concept of municipal solar aggregation, promoted by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center as Solarize Massachusetts. I figured as long as I was going to do it, I might as well take advantage of bulk pricing and get others in town to benefit from solar, as well. I spearheaded the Franklin Solar Challenge, where a committee of community volunteers put together an RFP and selected a vendor to work with who provided the best combination of pricing, product options, and service. I got my system installed in April after the harsh New England winter and got my first utility bill with $0 due and a bill credit! Over 100 homeowners have expressed interest, and we are on our way to getting the best bulk pricing available for everyone who participates.
(Source: Brett Feldman)
But Wait… There’s More
The other side to the solar story in Mass is the fact that the net metering caps in certain utility territories are being hit now, meaning that no new projects above residential-scale can be installed. The state government and stakeholders are trying to work out a solution, but in the meantime things are on hold. I am on the Town Council in Franklin, the elected governing body of the town. We own a large piece of property along a highway that would be perfect for solar development, but due to the cap, it can’t be done at this time and the space might be used for condos and office buildings instead.
So there is a personal story for you that offers insight into the various aspects of solar drama in Massachusetts.