Massachusetts Senate passes bill to eliminate the Eversource demand charge

massachusetts solar

The Massachusetts solar industry was thrown a life preserver from the state Senate, which passed SB 2545 yesterday. Not only does the bill raise the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) it also contains two provisions critical for the continued growth of the industry in the state.

First, it proposes a raise to the current cap on net-metering, a popular policy that is critical to the growth of solar energy across most states in the U.S. Second, it contains a proposal by Senator Michael J. Barrett to eliminate demand charges. The impetus for the demand charge amendment is a ruling by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) late last year that beginning in 2019 Eversource can impose an unprecedented demand charge fee on customers who choose to add solar panels to their home, church or small business. Vote Solar estimated this demand charge could add $4400 to $9400 to the cost of a home solar system over the course of its lifetime (systems in Boston currently cost around $18,400, for reference).

Massachusetts is a top state nationwide as far as the size of its solar industry and its citizens’ desire to increase investments in clean energy. The solar industry is really banking on this bill to eliminate the demand charge and keep momentum rolling, even staging rallies to help enact change.

“The Senate today passed a bill that would leap Massachusetts back into contention as a national leader on clean energy,” said Sean Garren, Northeast Senior Director for Vote Solar. “By setting a higher bar for renewable energy and removing barriers to citizens’ right to choose solar, the bill will put thousands to work delivering cleaner air, a safer climate and stronger local economies. Vote Solar applauds the Senate’s leadership on climate and clean energy and urges to House to swiftly act on this critical legislation.”

It is now up to both branches to reach an agreement on provisions vital to send to Governor Baker’s desk.

— Solar Builder magazine

Massachusetts solar workers to rally at state house Wednesday to fend off demand charges

massachusetts solar

With the end of the legislative session quickly approaching, solar workers from across the Commonwealth will rally at the Massachusetts State House May 16 at 10 a.m. to urge the Legislature to act in support of the state’s solar industry. This comes at a critical time for the Commonwealth’s solar industry, which continues to fend off attacks at the state and federal levels. A recent report by the Solar Foundation found that solar jobs in Massachusetts – after nearly a decade of growth – saw a double-digit decline in 2017 for the second consecutive year.

Recently, six industry organizations and leading advocates representing Massachusetts’ 488 solar employers joined forces to call on Governor Baker to support legislation to reverse new solar surcharges on Eversource customers, providing relief from net metering caps (limits on the credit solar energy system owners receive), and ensuring the state Solar Massachusetts Renewable Targets (SMART) program enables all sectors of the Commonwealth’s solar industry to thrive.

Following a rally on the front steps of the State House, workers and leaders from the solar industry will meet with Massachusetts policymakers to urge them to protect the Commonwealth’s solar workforce from further declines through action on the net metering caps, SMART program tariff, and undoing the poorly designed Monthly Minimum Reliability Contribution (MMRC) charge on new solar customers in Eversource territories.

— Solar Builder magazine

Massachusetts DPU approves demand charge on residential solar customers, Vote Solar challenges

massachusetts solar energy

Nonprofit Vote Solar is challenging the controversial decision of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU) to raise rates and create uncertainty for future solar customers in the Eversource utility territory. The Jan. 5 order by the DPU will force residential solar customers to pay additional charges that could range anywhere from $4,400 to $9,400 over the life of the solar system, depending on the customer. Vote Solar, along with the rest of the solar industry do not think the outcome in this decision making process was justified by evidence in the rate case. It also feels out of step with the state’s commitment to solar energy the incentives that have been put in place over the years to encourage more installations (which have worked).

“The Commission’s decision to effectively hike rates for future solar customers is wildly out of step with Massachusetts’s commitment to clean energy and climate leadership and the DPU’s own record of ensuring that solar customers are fairly compensated for the valuable local power they generate,” said Nathan Phelps, Program Manager for Vote Solar and expert witness in the case. “We are committed to reversing this decision and ensuring that the Commonwealth can continue building its clean energy economy, creating jobs, and fighting climate change.”

Demand charges for residential customers

Under the Eversource proposal approved by the Commission, solar customers in the state’s largest utility service area will be forced onto demand charges, a rate structure that is virtually unheard of for residential customers. These notoriously unpredictable charges are determined by a customer’s highest electricity usage over an entire monthly billing period, even if that peak is just for a few minutes. This means that an unlucky coincidence of events – an air conditioner automatically cycling at the same time that bread is in the toaster – can result in an unexpected bill increase for customers. In 2017, Vote Solar and five other leading regulatory experts released a report, titled “Charge without a Cause,” demonstrating that demand charges are both unfair to customers and are an ineffective mechanism for utility cost recovery.

The new Monthly Minimum Reliability Contribution (MMRC) charge approved in the order will apply to new net metering customers as of Dec. 31, 2018. It includes a higher customer charge and imposes demand charges on all net metering customers, including residential. This makes Massachusetts the first state commission to approve mandatory demand charges for residential customers.

The end of net metering? Report sums up movement to new solar compensation plans

Additionally, and in contrast with states around the country that have offered customers “time-of-use” rates that signal to customers when it costs more to use electricity, the order eliminates optional residential time-of-use rates. It also closes a time-of-use rate available to commercial and industrial customers as of Feb. 1, 2018, which is less than a month’s notice.

The Commission’s decision will set back Governor Charlie Baker’s commitment to lead on climate change in the absence of federal leadership. It also compromises the state’s clean energy economy, which today employs more than 100,000 people and has driven $11.4 billion in investments in the sector.

“This decision departs from the Department’s own precedent, is not supported by the evidence in the record before the Commission, and is counterproductive to the state’s own energy policies. We will ask the Supreme Judicial Court to get right what the Commission got wrong,” said Earthjustice attorney Hannah Chang.

Vote Solar’s petition of appeal will be filed in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by early February.

Solar industry reaction

The Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) immediately expressed concern, noting the obstacles for customers seeking to make clean energy choices, including the installation of solar, adoption of storage, energy efficiency and potentially electric vehicles.

“This order is a huge step backwards for a state that was one of the early national leaders in grid modernization and solar policy. It will discourage customer adoption of clean energy across the Commonwealth, further slowing clean energy job growth and investment and threatening to undermine the Baker-Polito Administration’s goal to achieve another 1,600 megawatts (MW) of solar,” said Janet Gail Besser, Executive Vice President of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. “Mandating a demand charge for residential customers at this scale is unprecedented. These changes are particularly concerning because Eversource lacks the “smart” metering needed to inform customers about their peak demand and energy usage.”

 

“This approval from the DPU is precedent-setting in all the wrong ways,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “With a sweep of a pen, DPU has made it harder for customers to be properly informed on how to manage their electricity use. This is a step in the wrong direction for solar in the Commonwealth and will undoubtedly make it tough for Massachusetts to reach its goal of installing another 1,600 MW of solar.”

NECEC and SEIA were pleased with the DPU’s decision not to consolidate commercial and industrial (“C&I”) rates at this time, which would have significantly harmed municipal and other solar projects already in operation or development, as well as the decision to address extra charges related to interconnection upgrades in a new proceeding in 2018.

— Solar Builder magazine

Massachusetts DPU approves demand charge on residential solar customers, Vote Solar challenges

massachusetts solar energy

Nonprofit Vote Solar is challenging the controversial decision of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU) to raise rates and create uncertainty for future solar customers in the Eversource utility territory. The Jan. 5 order by the DPU will force residential solar customers to pay additional charges that could range anywhere from $4,400 to $9,400 over the life of the solar system, depending on the customer. Vote Solar, along with the rest of the solar industry do not think the outcome in this decision making process was justified by evidence in the rate case. It also feels out of step with the state’s commitment to solar energy the incentives that have been put in place over the years to encourage more installations (which have worked).

“The Commission’s decision to effectively hike rates for future solar customers is wildly out of step with Massachusetts’s commitment to clean energy and climate leadership and the DPU’s own record of ensuring that solar customers are fairly compensated for the valuable local power they generate,” said Nathan Phelps, Program Manager for Vote Solar and expert witness in the case. “We are committed to reversing this decision and ensuring that the Commonwealth can continue building its clean energy economy, creating jobs, and fighting climate change.”

Demand charges for residential customers

Under the Eversource proposal approved by the Commission, solar customers in the state’s largest utility service area will be forced onto demand charges, a rate structure that is virtually unheard of for residential customers. These notoriously unpredictable charges are determined by a customer’s highest electricity usage over an entire monthly billing period, even if that peak is just for a few minutes. This means that an unlucky coincidence of events – an air conditioner automatically cycling at the same time that bread is in the toaster – can result in an unexpected bill increase for customers. In 2017, Vote Solar and five other leading regulatory experts released a report, titled “Charge without a Cause,” demonstrating that demand charges are both unfair to customers and are an ineffective mechanism for utility cost recovery.

The new Monthly Minimum Reliability Contribution (MMRC) charge approved in the order will apply to new net metering customers as of Dec. 31, 2018. It includes a higher customer charge and imposes demand charges on all net metering customers, including residential. This makes Massachusetts the first state commission to approve mandatory demand charges for residential customers.

The end of net metering? Report sums up movement to new solar compensation plans

Additionally, and in contrast with states around the country that have offered customers “time-of-use” rates that signal to customers when it costs more to use electricity, the order eliminates optional residential time-of-use rates. It also closes a time-of-use rate available to commercial and industrial customers as of Feb. 1, 2018, which is less than a month’s notice.

The Commission’s decision will set back Governor Charlie Baker’s commitment to lead on climate change in the absence of federal leadership. It also compromises the state’s clean energy economy, which today employs more than 100,000 people and has driven $11.4 billion in investments in the sector.

“This decision departs from the Department’s own precedent, is not supported by the evidence in the record before the Commission, and is counterproductive to the state’s own energy policies. We will ask the Supreme Judicial Court to get right what the Commission got wrong,” said Earthjustice attorney Hannah Chang.

Vote Solar’s petition of appeal will be filed in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by early February.

Solar industry reaction

The Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) immediately expressed concern, noting the obstacles for customers seeking to make clean energy choices, including the installation of solar, adoption of storage, energy efficiency and potentially electric vehicles.

“This order is a huge step backwards for a state that was one of the early national leaders in grid modernization and solar policy. It will discourage customer adoption of clean energy across the Commonwealth, further slowing clean energy job growth and investment and threatening to undermine the Baker-Polito Administration’s goal to achieve another 1,600 megawatts (MW) of solar,” said Janet Gail Besser, Executive Vice President of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. “Mandating a demand charge for residential customers at this scale is unprecedented. These changes are particularly concerning because Eversource lacks the “smart” metering needed to inform customers about their peak demand and energy usage.”

 

“This approval from the DPU is precedent-setting in all the wrong ways,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “With a sweep of a pen, DPU has made it harder for customers to be properly informed on how to manage their electricity use. This is a step in the wrong direction for solar in the Commonwealth and will undoubtedly make it tough for Massachusetts to reach its goal of installing another 1,600 MW of solar.”

NECEC and SEIA were pleased with the DPU’s decision not to consolidate commercial and industrial (“C&I”) rates at this time, which would have significantly harmed municipal and other solar projects already in operation or development, as well as the decision to address extra charges related to interconnection upgrades in a new proceeding in 2018.

— Solar Builder magazine

Massachusetts makes energy storage a priority with $20 million in grants

Massachusetts energy storage

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources was awarded $20 million in grants to 26 projects that will develop the region’s energy storage market. This number actually doubles the administration’s original funding plans. Overall, these projects will benefit 25 communities and draw in $32 million in matching funds, helping to grow the Commonwealth’s energy storage economy.

The announcement was made by Governor Baker during an event at UMass Memorial – Marlborough Hospital. The critical care facility will use funding received under the grant program to integrate a 400kw solar canopy and energy storage system, reduce energy use and costs, shave its peak demand and increase its overall resilience.

“The development and deployment of energy storage projects will be vital to the Commonwealth’s ability to continue leading the nation in energy efficiency,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Funding these storage projects is an investment in our energy portfolio that will reduce costs for ratepayers and help create a clean and resilient energy future.”

Launched by the Baker-Polito Administration in 2015, the ESI aims to make Massachusetts a national leader in energy storage by analyzing opportunities to support energy storage companies, accelerating the development of early commercial storage technologies and developing policy options to encourage energy storage deployment. The first phase of the ESI, the State of Charge study released in September 2016, identified hundreds of millions of dollars of potential ratepayer benefits from the deployment of energy storage in Massachusetts. The study analyzed the benefits of 10 specific use cases to evaluate how storage economics vary by business model, market involvement and location. These awards represent eight of those use cases and an additional use case not previously identified in the report.

SB Buzz Podcast: Fronius’ Dan Fortson talks the evolution of solar from the early days to now (and how he’d change it)

Energy storage technologies include batteries, flywheels, thermal storage, and pumped hydroelectric storage, which are capable of storing energy during off peak periods when costs are low and then make energy available during peak periods when costs are higher. Energy storage also makes it possible to increase the effectiveness of renewable energy sources, like solar, by storing energy generated during the day for use at night. Energy storage can also provide power during outages, result in greenhouse gas reductions, and increase the electric grid’s overall reliability and resilience.

The grants were awarded as part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Energy Storage Initiative (ESI) Advancing Commonwealth Energy Storage (ACES) program, funded by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) through Alternative Compliance Payments (ACP) and administered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC).

“Energy storage is a strategic opportunity for the Commonwealth to transform the way we utilize our energy resources,” said Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson. “The projects receiving funding through the ACES program will provide a roadmap for how Massachusetts can integrate storage into our diversified energy portfolio to lower overall energy costs, increase grid efficiency by decreasing peak demand, and more effectively utilize our strong clean energy sector.”

— Solar Builder magazine