Massachusetts Stepping Up Its Clean Energy Leadership

When it comes to state-level leadership on clean energy, the huge, sun-drenched, and perennially optimistic “Golden State” of California immediately comes to mind. But the left coast hardly has a monopoly on setting the tempo for the energy revolution. In fact, the pace is getting pushed in a major way by a state that could be considered California’s opposite in terms of size, climate, and temperament: Massachusetts.

Smart (and Getting SMARTer) on Solar

Despite the (underrated!) rugged beauty of the New England coast, Massachusetts isn’t exactly a big destination for sunshine-minded vacationers. But although it’s the 14th largest state by population — and 45th largest by geographic area — Massachusetts is the sixth largest in terms of solar power installed, ahead of both Texas and New York. Perhaps even more impressively, it’s the #1 state for solar jobs on a per capita basis, with its nearly 15,000 solar workers second in absolute terms only to California!

As Germany proved over a decade ago, you don’t need a lot of sunshine to become a solar superpower — you just need smart policy. And way back in 1997, Massachusetts put its marker down as a clean energy leader by passing into law one of the first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) policies in the country, which set statewide renewable energy targets starting in 2003. The state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) upped the ante further in 2010 by creating a “Solar Carve-Out” requiring that a certain percentage of this renewable energy come from solar.

This carve-out policy has been a success, and it will soon reach its target of 1.6 gigawatts (GW) of solar installations. However, the SREC system isn’t perfect. Instead of a fixed incentive, solar generators receive SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) that can be sold into a market where prices vary based on supply and demand, making their value hard to predict when considering solar investments. That’s why Mosaic and our partners have rolled out a special financing solution for homeowners going solar in Massachusetts and other RPS states to make these SREC revenues more predictable.

As the existing RPS approaches its cap on solar, DOER is living up to its action-oriented acronym with its recent proposal of a successor policy with its own catchily appropriate title: SMART, or the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target. This SMART policy, which aims for an additional 1.6 GW of solar installations and thousands of new solar jobs, will provide greater certainty for solar generation by adding a set, per-kilowatt-hour incentive bonus to existing net metering credits. The proposal was praised by the Solar Energy Industries Association for not only setting an ambitious goal but for providing continuity for the thriving Massachusetts solar industry.

Massachusetts isn’t resting on its laurels in terms of its top-line renewable energy goals, either. In January, a trio of state legislators introduced “An Act transitioning Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable energy,” which would set a new target of reaching 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable energy economy-wide (including transportation and other sectors) by 2050. In addition to being a major step up from the current RPS target of 15% by 2020, this would be the fastest state target for 100% renewable electricity in the country, as well as the first economy-wide 100% renewables target. The bill is seeing strong support, with a whopping 53 cosponsors in the House and Senate amounting to more than a quarter of all members of the legislature.

Going Beyond Solar

Of course, clean energy isn’t only about solar anymore. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its cold winters, Massachusetts has long been a leader on energy efficiency as well, thanks to a combination of building codes, tax incentives and rebates, and utility regulations aimed towards spurring efficiency investments by homeowners and businesses alike. This potent combination of smart policies has led the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) to rank Massachusetts #1 in energy efficiency on its state scorecard for six years running — albeit in a tie with California in 2016.

And just as the conversation around the clean energy dream home is evolving to include new technologies, so too is the conversation around state energy leadership. To that end, Massachusetts is emerging as a leader on battery technology, thanks to the $10 million Energy Storage Initiative (ESI)announced by Governor Baker in 2015 and a 2016 law requiring DOER to develop an energy storage mandate — the first policy of its kind on the east coast. Not only that, but the proposed SMART solar program will have an extra “adder” incentive for energy storage paired with solar installations, based on the value these resources deliver to the grid.

Massachusetts is also looking to step up on electric vehicles (EVs), which can cut transportation emissions while also providing valuable storage resources to the electric grid. Like California, it offers a $2,500 rebate for EV purchases via the cleverly-named MOR-EV program (Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles), which has spurred purchases of over 3,600 EVs and other plug-in vehicles since 2014. It’s also working to expand the state’s network of466 public-access charging stations with Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program grants for the installation of charging stations at public buildings and workplaces.

A King in the East?

This well-rounded portfolio of policies, along with broader framework provided by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, has played a central role in helping Massachusetts punch above its weight in the clean energy world. It sets a strong example for other states — whether you’re big or small, or sunny or… less sunny, all you need are smart policies to generate lots of jobs, investment, and cleaner air. All things considered, Massachusetts has a good a claim as any state to be the “king” of clean energy on the east coast!*

* Although New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, and others might have something to say about that…

John Atkinson | Mosaic

Writing about the clean energy revolution for Mosaic, the leader in home solar finance.