Governor Charlie Baker recently signed S-9, An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy into law. The bill had been bouncing back and forth between the legislature and the governor’s office since December and finally passed with bipartisan support. So why is it such a big deal and what does it really mean for solar in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts has been a leader in solar power for some time. Its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program established in 2018 has driven significant solar deployment and served as a template for other states to follow. But this bill takes things to the next level. It is the most far-reaching climate legislation since the Green Communities Acts of 2008, putting the state on track to reach some ambitious changes to the Commonwealth’s climate policy and goals while making solar easier and more financially accessible for municipalities, schools, nonprofits, and businesses.
Photo Credit: Governor Baker's Office (mass.gov)
The bill tackles some of the most pressing issues of our time including reducing the impacts of climate change and creating post-pandemic jobs to rebuild the state’s economy.
“Climate change is an urgent challenge that requires action, and this legislation will reduce emissions in Massachusetts for decades to come while also ensuring the Commonwealth remains economically competitive,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a press release. “We are proud to have worked closely with the legislature to produce bipartisan legislation that will advance clean energy sources and secure a healthy, livable environment for future generations.”
With hundreds of statutory updates and changes, there’s a lot to this revolutionary bill so let’s break it down to understand what it means for the state and how your organization can be part of the exciting emission reduction progress while Powering Your Tomorrow.
Setting Clear Priorities
The most notable piece of the legislation is that it sets a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is on par with the targets of the federal administration, as well The European Union, Japan, and more than 110 other countries who have pledged carbon neutrality by this prominent year. By also adopting this goal, Massachusetts has aligned its priorities with the White House and many of the world’s leading nations.
To get there, the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) will need to increase by 3% every year between 2025 and 2029 resulting in 40% of the state’s energy coming from renewables by 2030. Interim benchmarks also establish a 50% emissions reduction (from 1990 levels) by 2030 and a 75% reduction by 2040. Drastically cutting emissions will require a major increase in electrification powered by wind and solar.
State emphasis on renewables will mandate the prioritization of clean energy starting with The Department of Public Utilities (DPU). With a focus already on safety, reliability, and affordability, DPU will now need to consider climate policy and how to make those greenhouse gas emission reductions.
This trickles down to investor-owned utilities, Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil, which must procure electricity from Class 1 renewable resources in order to build their renewable portfolios (by 3% each year in line with the RPS) or face penalties. It encourages them to raise the bar and get creative when it comes to experimenting with new technology by reducing regulatory barriers and financial risk.
This extends to municipal light departments (MLPs), which have their own policies around metering and incentives offered for renewables in their service areas. Now, MLPs must procure 50% of their power from non-carbon emitting sources by 2030. With 40 MLPSs in the state (accounting for about 14% of the market), transitioning MLPs will add up to be an important part of meeting the state’s emission reduction goals and creating a cleaner Commonwealth.
Increasing Solar Access and Savings
To reach their climate and economic goals, legislators realize that solar needs to become a priority for public and private entities as well. To encourage more solar adoption, the bill builds off of SMART’s generous incentives by making solar easier to sign up for and more accessible than ever before. For example, the bill sets up a new grant program to help nonprofits afford solar and changes state rules to allow businesses or buildings to sell excess energy back to the grid.
The bill removes net metering caps on 25 kiloWatt (kW) to 2 MegaWatt (MW) systems, increasing the opportunity to participate in additional revenue generation along with benefits of AOBCs, which frees up money to devote to other priorities. Public and low-income offtaker adders provide another incentive while giving municipalities and organizations with property in low-income areas the opportunity to benefit from cleaner energy at a lower cost.
Massachusetts energy users will also see savings from the energy efficiency standards the bill establishes for new construction. New “stretch-codes” will allow cities and towns who seek to go further in incorporating renewables and setting optional higher efficiency standards for net-zero buildings to do so. These new standards are estimated to save Massachusetts residents $282 million in electricity bills each year by 2035, according to a study from the nonprofit Environment Massachusetts.
Expanding Electric Vehicles (EV)
With transportation generating the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA, Massachusetts is reflecting a federal push to expand electric vehicle adoption. Governor Baker plans to set charging station targets to provide assurance to drivers looking to refuel car batteries on longer drives and create incentives for EV purchases to combat hesitations hindering widespread EV adoption.
The state also incentivizes surrounding EV infrastructure through solar carport and canopy adders as part of the SMART program. This provides an opportunity for public and private entities alike to add economic, aesthetically pleasing solutions that increase property value and enhance comfort by protecting against the elements and housing EV chargers.
More solar demand is already driving the need for a stronger green workforce and this legislation only adds to that need. The solar industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation, offering opportunities for workers from a variety of backgrounds.
Knowing this, legislators are allotting an extra $12 million to help develop green jobs and training programs. Solect sees this need and career opportunity first hand and is excited to expand our team to deliver more solar to our customers.
“This is a revolutionary piece of legislation that prioritizes transitioning to renewable energy sources, like solar and energy storage technology, and requires the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” CEO and co-founder of Solect Energy Ken Driscoll said. “It is one of the most ambitious climate bills I’ve seen, and it truly shows the state’s commitment to the health, safety, and future of those in Massachusetts.”
Solect is thankful to the legislature and all of the renewable energy advocates who crafted this bill. Now, Massachusetts representatives from both parties are in line with the way our country is headed, driven by our federal administration and the public who believe in a better future. We are proud of our state for sending a message that solar is important. Clean energy is a priority no matter who you are or where you live.
With onsite solar and energy storage or offsite projects that provide net metering or AOBCs now more viable and broadly available throughout the Commonwealth, Solect is here to assist you on your journey toward achieving these environmental and economic goals. As an experienced consultant and trusted partner, we can help you navigate legislation to making sense of incentives and determine the best way to maximize your benefits.
Contact us today for a free evaluation and to learn more about how you can take advantage of solar!