William and Norma Coli: Bill before House would reduce affordability of PV systems in Massachusetts



Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2014

CHARLEMONT — We are disappointed with the recent release of House 4185 (the so-called “compromise bill”) from the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy that is co-chaired by state Sen. Benjamin Downing.

Our disappointment starts with the back-room approach that seems to have been taken, whereby large renewable energy developers and the utility companies were unduly represented in developing the bill while small-scale dealers and installers were excluded. The only thing that appears to have been compromised is the future ability of motivated individuals to afford to install small-scale renewable energy systems.

Since recently writing two grant proposals to hopefully incentivize installation of a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic system on our farm, we are now very familiar with the economics of installing a PV system to cover our agricultural power needs. As a consequence, we can document that the changes proposed in virtual net metering and solar renewable energy certficates (SRECS), will significantly extend the payback time for those willing to install PV systems and ultimately make them less affordable.

Using our situation as an example, in terms of the changes proposed in net metering, the only suitable site for a PV system is adjacent to our farmhouse. There, power flows through the house electric meter. However, most of our agricultural electrical use is based at our maple sugarhouse, which has its own meter. Were this bill to pass as written, we would not be able to apply credits we generate to our primary source of use. Hence, the savings (power we did not need to buy) would be taken out of the “simple payback” equation.

Phasing out SRECs would do the same. Halving virtual net metering rates for community shared solar projects would also have a similar negative result. If the Commonwealth really wants to support solar, what sense does this make?

Can’t the middle class catch a break? Adding insult to injury is the proposed minimum monthly charge for PV system owners, and the surcharge to be added to all other electric bills to pay for distribution and transmission systems.

Pardon us, but why is it the ratepayer’s responsibility to pay all the cost for distribution and transmission systems? Isn’t that an appropriate expense to be borne, at least partly, by the utilities? Would that so badly cut into profits?

We believe strongly that the bill now before the House Ways and Means Committee is absolutely the wrong approach if the commonwealth is truly intent on fostering greater use of PV technology at least partially in a de-centralized manner. Rather than cater to the profit-making focus of the utility companies, the state should be doing everything possible to put PV systems on every suitable roof in the state. It can do so by subsidizing small-scale, distributed generation using renewable technologies and either leave in place existing incentives for distributed PV generation or, preferably, enhance such incentives.

By so doing, in combination with energy conservation measures, we would no longer need to add electrical capacity by building huge generating plants or permitting dangerous gas pipelines to pass through the state.

We strongly urge Sen. Downing and state Rep. Paul Mark to vote against any bill that is based on H 4185 and amend it to keep in place all current incentives for installing small-scale solar photovoltaics.

William and Norma Coli live in Charlemont and operate the Blue Heron Farm.




 


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