Massachusetts Readies New Solar Plan For January 2010

With ambitious initiatives such as its Solar Stimulus Programand a target of installing 250 megawatts’ worth of solar-generatingcapacity in the state by 2017, Massachusetts has shown itself to be avanguard in the U.S. push for solar, and the latest news to emerge fromthe Commonwealth further bolsters this reputation: having tapped outits $68 million state solar fund in around half the amount of time itwas allotted for, the Deval Patrick Administration is in the process ofassembling a new program that officials hope will match the generosity of its predecessor, Commonwealth Solar.

“There’s a lot of folks that would just like morerebates,’’ said Philip Giudice, head of the Massachusetts Department ofEnergy Resources. “This is really about finding ways to make this workby using public dollars as preciously as we possibly can.’’

The new solar plan, which officials hope to have ready by January 1,has a lot to live up to. The $68 million intended for CommonwealthSolar was supposed to last three to four years, and was instead used upby October 2009, a mere 22 months after the program’s inauguration.Homeowners wishing to harness the sun’s energy received rebates thataveraged over $13,000, which were funded by surcharges utilities andelectricity customers pay to the state. As the average cost of aresidential rooftop solar system in Massachusetts hovers in the $33,500range, the subsidy is a boon, a deal-maker or –breaker.

“The project is really not doable for the typicalhomeowner without the rebate,’’ said Joel Frisch, who is planning toinstall a 4.8-kilowatt system at his Clinton home, funded in part witha $15,120 rebate approved by state officials last week.

Commercial solar projects, too, have been able to benefit greatlyfrom the rebate. As these large systems can cost hundreds of thousandsof dollars, state support can determine whether or not a project willeven get off the ground. Thanks to Commonwealth Solar, many have—byearly October, the initiative had funded 208 commercial solar projects,the equivalent of 10.3 megawatts’ worth of generating power, with eachproject receiving on average a rebate of $138,455. Although the stateis still processing some applications, The Boston Globereports that the first solar program will have subsidized approximately1,200 solar projects in total, which, when complete, will be able togenerate up to 29 megawatts of energy, exceeding expectations.

Details on the new program may be available as early asnext week, as state officials wrap up four months of hearings andmeetings with solar installers, environmental activists, utilitycompanies, and others about the terms. Among the last matters to bedecided is how much utilities will be required to help finance thesubsidies.

Although it will be riding on—and hopefully bolstering—the wave ofthe enthusiasm generated by its predecessor, however, the new solarplan won’t be identical to Commonwealth Solar.

The next state solar program will differ from the firstin one important way: It will include a credit-based system, in whichutilities will be required to buy electricity credits from residentsand businesses with solar panels. The price of credits will helpdetermine the subsidy. Massachusetts officials also expect to provide atraditional rebate for homeowners, to be financed by surcharges thatelectric customers already pay to a state renewable energy fund.

Apparently, the recent decision of Evergreen Solar—the erstwhile source of Massachusetts’ state solar pride—to outsource hasn’t dampened the Bay State’s determination to go solar. Stay strong, Massachusetts.

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