The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is designing a new solar incentive program to encourage the continued development of solar renewable energy generating sources by residential, commercial, governmental and industrial electricity customers, based on a state law enacted this spring. The so-called "next solar initiative" program could affect the pace of solar photovoltaic project development in Massachusetts, as policymakers seek a smooth transition from the current SREC II program as it reaches full capacity.
On April 11, 2016, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law An Act Relative to Solar Energy, also known as Chapter 75 of the Acts of 2016. The law preserved and expanded net metering, preserving the value of that policy for projects developed by residential, small commercial, municipal and
As described by the Baker administration, the law also allows DOER and the Department of
Public Utilities to "gradually transition the solar industry to a
more self-sustaining model." In particular, section 11 of the act directed DOER to "develop a statewide solar incentive program to encourage the continued
development of solar renewable energy generating sources by residential,
commercial, governmental and industrial electricity customers
throughout the commonwealth."
The law prescribed twelve requisite characteristics of the solar incentive program, but left the creation of rules and regulations to DOER. Some criteria are process-oriented, such as that the program "promotes the orderly transition to a stable and self-sustaining solar market at a reasonable cost to ratepayers," or considers underlying system costs, environmental benefits, energy demand reduction and other avoided costs provided by solar renewable energy generating facilities.
Other criteria define structural requirements for the program, such as that it "relies on market-based mechanisms or price signals as much as possible to set incentive levels," "differentiates incentive levels to support diverse installation types and sizes that provide unique benefits," and "features a known or easily estimated budget to achieve program goals
through use of a declining adjustable block incentive, a competitive
procurement model, tariff or other declining incentive framework." The law also requires the program to promote investor confidence through long-term incentive revenue certainty and market stability.
After the solar bill's enactment, DOER held two public listening sessions, and solicited comments on the development of the "next solar incentive" through June 30, 2016. Many commenters expressed support for a continuation of the SREC framework, such as "SREC III." Other comments focused on locational issues, such as proposing policies to deter the development of projects located on farmland or other undeveloped "greenfield" sites.
DOER is expected to release a first draft of its next solar incentive program this summer.