1.21 More Gigawatts! Great Scott!

Doc Brown would be impressed.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has announced an ambitious goal of installing 1.6GW of solar in the Commonwealth by 2020. Gov. Patrick made the announcement after celebrating the installation of 250MW of solar generation – the laudable achievement four years early of his administration’s original goal set back in 2008, which was to have been achieved by 2017.

The administration calculates that 1.6GW of solar would generate enough power to serve nearly all residences in Boston.  That’s a lot of solar. At peak capacity (and 88 mph) more than enough to bring Massachusetts into a leading position among U.S. states developing solar (or a DeLorean anywhere in time.)

In many ways the state’s success stems from the groundbreaking 2008 Green Communities Act, with its  net metering program implemented by the state’s Department of Public Utilities,  the Department of Energy Resources’ establishment of a solar carve-out to the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (the “SREC Program”), the ongoing support of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Commonwealth Solar, Solarize and sundry other pro-renewables programs..  Massachusetts’ unique net metering rules allow projects to be sized to the available solar resource and electrical infrastructure, rather than to the more limited square footage of a rooftop. The SREC Program, though not without its flaws, has attracted meaningful capital and the attention of big balance sheet installers and developers from around the country, as well as from overseas, to build solar in Massachusetts.  Some companies founded in California now do more business in Massachusetts than in their (former) home states.

How the new 1.6GW goal will work with other important caps on existing solar programs or the development of successor programs remains to be seen.  For example, the current SREC Program is set to phase out after the Commonwealth hits 400MW of installed capacity. And the state’s current net metering program includes a statutory cap set at 6% of peak historic load in investor-owned utility territory (approximately 666MW of capacity.) (Full disclosure: that number could be potentially greater if more net metered resources come from solar than from other eligible resources because solar capacity for these purposes is calculated at 80% of its DC rating at standard test conditions rather than its AC nameplate capacity. I won’t do the math here…)

According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), other notable state goals include Maryland, which is seeking 1.3GW and New Jersey, a perennial solar leader, has targeted 4GW. California, another standout state, has a 5% cap on its net metering services.

So where do we stand in Massachusetts right now?

According to the most recent monthly tally released by MA DOER on May 20, the capacity of resources registered for participation in the SREC Program, 287MW has been registered and 217.9MW have been constructed under the SREC Program – nearly 6,000 solar projects.

As of May 17, according to the administrator of the system for assurance of net metering services, 184.3MW of capacity remained in the private cap and 183.4MW remained in public cap.

The new policy is described in the Governor’s announcement only a few weeks after the release of a presentation by DOER, presented in a public session held March 22 at the State House in which DOER mused on possible approaches to continuing the Commonwealth’s successful solar programs after installation of the first 400MWs in the Commonwealth. Much work remains to be done by DOER and potentially the legislature in conforming the existing programs (without disturbing market expectations under those programs) to new programs and this stepped up goal.

Time’s a-wasting. Solar’s ITC remains in place until the end of 2016. We don’t need a flux capacitor, but the way I see it, if you’re gonna build a solar program, why not do it with some style?  We are looking forward to the next phase in Massachusetts’ continuing push to lead the nation in solar and to DOER’s proposals.  History is gonna change.

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