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Downing: Legislature Enacts Solar Conference Report, Raises Net Metering Cap
April 07, 2016

State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D - Pittsfield), announces that the report of the conference committee assigned to work out the differences between the House and Senate bills on solar energy was accepted and enacted in today’s formal session. The report, H. 4173, now goes to the Governor to be signed into law.

Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to receive a credit for the unused electricity they feed back to the grid. The bill increases the private and public net metering caps by 3% each. It establishes a new net metering credit value of 60% of full retail for projects installed after the state reaches its established goal of 1600MW of solar capacity.

“Solar is a key piece of our strategy to combat climate change and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Senator Downing. “This legislation is an important step to continue solar development.”

The new net metering value will not apply to small residential, commercial/industrial, or government and municipally-owned projects, which will continue to be reimbursed at the retail rate. Additionally, all projects installed before the 1600MW goal is reached will continue to receive the retail rate for 25 years from the date of interconnection and continue to receive the benefits of the incentive program under which they were originally built.

The bill authorizes the Department of Energy Resources to create a new solar incentive program to promote the continued growth of the solar industry, with a particular focus on community shared, government and municipally owned, and low income solar projects.

Finally, the bill increases the amount of solar an energy distribution company can own or operate from 25MW to 35MW. Distribution companies may also apply to the Department of Public Utilities for permission to charge solar producers a minimum reliability contribution for grid maintenance costs. The bill would require the department to conduct a full adjudicatory hearing and at least one public hearing before approving such a proposal.

Downing, who has served as the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy for three terms, identified action on  solar policy as an early priority this session. The Senate began the net metering debate in July of 2015, adopting a Downing amendment raising the net metering cap to a climate change adaptation bill. Downing’s amendment aligned the net metering cap with the state’s 1600MW goal of installed solar capacity and further directed the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to create a new solar incentive program when the 1600 MW goal is reached. 

The House responded in November with legislation that provided a 2% cap increase for public and private projects while also drastically cutting the net metering credit value for most prospective solar projects. Under the leadership of Senator Downing, the Senate proposed alternative compromise language maintaining the 2% increase while attempting to establish a middle ground on the net metering credit value. The House rejected the new amendment, and a six member conference committee was established, chaired by Downing for the Senate and Representative Brian Dempsey for the House.

The conference report enacted today is the result of negotiations between the committee members to resolve the differences between the two bills engrossed in November. While it does not include all of the exemptions to the new credit value that the Senate initially envisioned, it increases the net metering cap beyond what either bill originally proposed and brings the net metering credit value much higher than the House’s original proposal, while shielding projects currently in development from retroactive changes.  

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