As I might’ve mentioned before, I genuinely enjoy going to solar sector trade shows: Where else do you get to meet so many industry insiders, learn about new and upcoming technology, collect a few cool knickknacks, and, of course, get to network while (responsibly) sipping on one or two complimentary drinks? What I definitely haven’t mentioned, though, is that I am terrified of flying.
Statistically, I know there’s a better chance of getting struck by lightning or run over by a cow or something than being in an airplane accident, but for whatever irrational reason, planes still frighten me. That’s why I was so excited to go to a recent conference in nearby Boston. Driving, though statistically more dangerous than flying, is fine by me, especially when the weather is clear and the music good.
As I neared the end of my drive from Connecticut to Boston, I saw a massive rooftop solar array on one side of me and a wind turbine on the other. The awesome sight made me smile – clearly, Massachusetts understands the value of renewable energy, and I could tell this was going to be a good trade show. Ultimately, the omen proved true, and on my way home from the conference, I saw yet another large solar array, this time ground-mounted, located adjacent to a rest stop on the highway. A sign indicated the project was part of a Massachusetts state program.
The Bay State has been actively pursuing clean energy leadership for years, and obviously, the effort is paying off. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Massachusetts is home to around 15,000 solar jobs and ranks among the top 10 solar states in the country, with about 1.5 GW of cumulative installed capacity as of the end of 2016. More recently, I’ve also noticed an uptick in solar announcements coming out of the state, most notably community solar projects.
Massachusetts’ renewable energy success is due, in large part, to support from state officials, lawmakers and regulators. For example, Gov. Charlie Baker has been a vocal solar and energy storage advocate. Although some may claim renewable energy is traditionally a “Democrat thing,” as a Republican, Baker demonstrates that clean energy isn’t a partisan issue – a finding numerous U.S. polls discovered during the 2016 elections. Last April, Baker signed bipartisan legislation to raise the state’s net-metering cap, and he declared solar development “will be an integral component of our state’s clean energy future.” The governor’s predecessor, Deval Patrick, was also a major solar supporter who helped the state meet a solar capacity target four years early.
Established by the state legislature, Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard has been a big catalyst of clean energy development, as well, and some state lawmakers have even introduced an ambitious bill to increase the mandate to 100% renewables. Then, of course, there’s the state’s Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program, which had a few issues early on but has been wildly successful overall. Solar groups recently praised the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) for extending the SREC II program further into 2017 as the agency irons out details for a long-term replacement of the program.
Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at SEIA, called the extension “a much-needed bridge between the end of the current solar incentive program and the beginning of the new one.” He added, “This action will allow new solar projects to move forward, creating jobs, valuable investment dollars and a well-deserved reputation for Massachusetts as one of America’s top solar states.” According to a DOER document, the proposed replacement plan is the result of a multi-stakeholder process and would aim to add another 1.6 GW of solar through a so-called “declining block” program.
For the most part, Massachusetts has done what’s necessary to proliferate renewables, and policymakers in many other states across the U.S. would do well to follow down the same road.