Skip to main content

Sustainable Energy Takes Flight in Massachusetts

Faneuil Marketplace in Boston

Among the many clean energy successes Massachusetts has had so far, some gaps remain, said Larry Chretien, executive director of Green Energy Consumers Alliance, in this interview. There are policies that could amplify sustainability further at the state level. Public enthusiasm has helped programs take flight.

CEFF: How would you describe the solar-energy market's current successes and challenges in Massachusetts?

Chretien: Everyone should acknowledge that Massachusetts is among the nation’s leaders in solar energy. Solar Energy Industries Association ranks us 7th in the country in installed capacity. And Solar Power Rocks says we are the 2nd-most solar-friendly state [in the nation]. 

Policies have been supportive. Consumer demand has been enormous. Surveys show people in this state love solar – and consumer adoption has proven that. [However], one of our largest utilities, Eversource, is hostile. And it has an important friend in the Department of Public Utilities. Not only does Eversource oppose time-of-use pricing, but it wants to impose demand charges on residential customers!

What we’re seeing here is that the governor’s office is trying to strike a balance. The [staff] know people love solar, but they are sympathetic to the utilities and big businesses that want to see solar incentives trimmed.

Legislation affecting solar that passed in 2017 and 2018 is probably going to stay in place while the governor remains in office. 

It is relevant to the solar market that Massachusetts policymakers are eager to develop a strong and sizable market for electricity storage – both behind-the-meter and utility-scale.

As storage gains traction, it’s going to be increasingly paired with solar. That will give consumers further encouragement to install it. That’s going to create a positive feedback loop with policymakers. They’ll want to satisfy what the public wants, either during this governor’s tenure or afterwards.

CEFF: What is your perspective on the energy efficiency market's successes and challenges at this time in Massachusetts?

Chretien: Today, Oct. 4, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Massachusetts #1 for the eighth year in a row. So that has to be recognized before we go any further.

The benefits that come from this – lower energy costs, lower emissions and so forth – far exceed the costs.

The law says we’re supposed to capture all the savings that are cheaper than supply, which means [we should] save energy until the benefit-cost ratio falls to 1.0. 

But we are stopping far short of that. Think about it – we don’t impose a cost-effectiveness test on energy supply, but we do for energy efficiency. And when efficiency passes the test, we still buy more supply than we need.

Changing that will require a different mindset at Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, Department of Energy Resources, and especially Department of Public Utilities.

As a separate matter, the efficiency programs allow for active demand reduction, but even in Massachusetts, we are just getting started on that. [I hope] the plan that is being reviewed this year will have specific plans, budgets and goals for reducing demand.

ACEEE did point out that Massachusetts could have earned more points in the ranking if we updated appliance-efficiency standards. The state Senate wanted to do that last year, but the House failed. There are also huge opportunities in the transportation sector.

CEFF: What stakeholder decisions would catalyze forward movement in these two markets in Massachusetts?

Chretien: For solar, my organization advocated legislation to [put annual increases in place] of one to three percent for the Renewable Portfolio Standard. Last year, we got it increased to two percent.

At some point, we would like to go back and get that raised again. That would provide some long-term lift to the market for solar power and other renewables.

We also expect to see the Department of Energy Resources move forward on storage with new authority from the legislature. There’s a goal of 1000 MW of storage. It will have to be cost-effective. Storage that is installed behind the meter will dovetail nicely with the efficiency programs administered by utilities.  And it can easily pair with solar, making solar more attractive.

My organization would also like to see an amendment to the Global Warming Solutions Act that would set a binding limit on greenhouse gas emissions for 2030. 

Right now, the next milestone is 2050, which is too far out. If there was a mandate for 2030, the state would have to set an aggressive plan that would undoubtedly require more solar power and energy efficiency.

Note: Emma McDonald contributed research to this article.

Join our LinkedIn group to discuss this article. You may also email the author directly using our contact form.