BOSTON – Friday, December 9, 2011 – Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. today announced a US Department of Energy (DOE) grant of $566,354 that will help five cities and towns - Boston, Cambridge, Harvard, Hatfield and Winchester - improve finance options and permitting processes for solar energy projects.
The grant, unveiled by US DOE Secretary Stephen Chu during a visit to Boston last week, will enable the five communities to pilot new programs to increase the adoption of rooftop solar installations by streamlining permitting, providing better information on interconnection practices, and developing alternative financing options. The goal of the program is to develop a model permitting process that can be adopted throughout Massachusetts and beyond, structural guidelines for building inspectors on the impact of solar photovoltaic (PV) on residential roofs, and user-friendly information on interconnection standards.
“Investing in clean, renewable energy makes sense because it protects our environment, stabilizes long-term energy costs and helps to reduce the amount Massachusetts spends on imported energy sources,” said Secretary Sullivan. “Instead of spending billions of dollars on imported fossil fuels, we can invest in local solar energy jobs that expand homegrown energy sources and the Massachusetts renewable energy industry.”
Massachusetts is at the end of the energy pipeline and imports all of its fossil-fuel based energy sources from other regions of the country or other parts of the world - many of them unstable or hostile to the U.S. Of the $22 billion Massachusetts spends annually to buy the energy that runs its power plants, buildings and vehicles, 80 percent flows out of state to purchase coal from Colombia, oil from Venezuela, and natural gas and oil from the Middle East and Canada. That’s nearly $18 billion in lost economic opportunity that Massachusetts stands poised to reclaim through investments in home-grown renewable energy including solar energy.
Overall, clean energy jobs are growing in Massachusetts according to the 2011 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report, which finds a total of 4,909 clean energy businesses in Massachusetts that employ more than 64,000 workers. These companies reported a 6.7 percent job growth rate from July 2010 to July 2011. Solar energy is the most prominent renewable energy technology area for Massachusetts clean energy companies, with more than two in three renewable energy employers working with solar energy technologies.
“Under Governor Patrick’s leadership, Massachusetts is in the midst of a 30-fold increase in solar installations and thanks to the Department of Energy, we can continue to build on our success,” said Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Commissioner Mark Sylvia.
“By addressing the issues and costs associated with permitting, installation, design and maintenance of residential solar PV we have a great opportunity to help make solar PV a viable energy source for more residents in Massachusetts,” said Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) Chief Executive Officer Patrick Cloney.
With innovative incentive programs for renewable energy such as Commonwealth Solar and a Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) program, as well as federal Recovery Act investments, solar photovoltaic power in Massachusetts is in the midst of a 30-fold increase, from 3.5 megawatts of installed in 2007 to approximately 95 megawatts of solar now installed or under contract. As of November 2011 there were 67 megawatts of installed solar power in Massachusetts.
Known as the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, the US DOE grant program is focused on identifying and implementing best practices for streamlined permitting, interconnection, financing and zoning of solar PV projects in the five selected pilot communities. In addition, the study will aim to determine methods to replicate these best practices on a larger scale.
"By streamlining the adoption of solar energy projects, this program will allow interested communities to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and promote awareness of renewable energy alternatives," said Congressman Stephen F. Lynch. “I am pleased to see that Governor Patrick continues to make solar energy a priority.”
“The lessons learned from these pilot programs will help to identify best practices for PV installations in communities across the Commonwealth. The return on this investment will be evident not only by energy cost savings, but also by the reduction in our carbon footprint,” said Congressman John Olver.
The grant – administered as part of DOE’s Rooftop Solar Challenge to Induce Market Transformation – will include a team of the five communities and the program partners that include DOER, the MassCEC, the Solar Energy Business Association of New England, Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS), and MassDevelopment.
The Massachusetts partners aim to identify best practices and develop a model permit process for rooftop systems of 300 kilowatts and less and design standards to help building inspectors to reduce the review for most residential rooftops of 10 kilowatts or less. The standards will serve as guidance to the building inspectors in the 351 communities across Massachusetts. With the goal of developing alternative financing options for residential solar PV, the team will also develop a model process for cities and towns to implement community solar gardens and educate and provide outreach to local financial institutions. A solar garden is a solar array erected on public property which becomes available for community members to buy shares of the power. The team will also develop an annotated model solar access bylaw/ordinance and accompanying guidance.
"Expediting the transition to a clean energy future grows jobs while protecting our environment,” said Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “I am thrilled that the federal government has recognized the shared commitment of the Legislature and the Patrick Administration to advance clean energy, energy efficiency and conservation initiatives."
“This permitting program is exactly what the solar energy sector needs to continue increasing its share in the energy market here in Massachusetts, said Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “I’m pleased to see the Patrick Administration continue to advocate on behalf of clean energy alternatives and I look forward to seeing this program implemented.”
“Massachusetts is quickly becoming a leader in the new energy economy as the state pursues one of the most ambitious clean energy requirements in the country. Now is the time to grow the Commonwealth’s resources in its already burgeoning green jobs market and this grant combined with the Patrick-Murray Administration’s commitment to clean energy will help us do just that,” said Rep. John D. Keenan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “In addition these funds advance economic development opportunities and help protect our environment.”
"Massachusetts continues to be a leader in providing renewable energy opportunities for our cities and towns,” said Rep. Anne M. Gobi, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “These pilot programs benefit not just the five communities but show what is possible for others."
“I want to thank Secretary Chu for recognizing the unique partnership we have developed with the Commonwealth to bring clean energy opportunities to every doorstep in Boston,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “In Boston, we’ve streamlined permitting and reduced costs for solar making this clean energy technology a smart choice for both home owners and businesses.”
According to DOE, non-hardware or soft costs such as permitting, installation and design and maintenance currently account for up to 40 percent of the total cost of installed rooftop PV systems in the US. The Rooftop Solar Challenge is designed to incentivize awardees to address permitting, zoning, metering and connection process required to install and finance residential and small business solar systems.