Beacon Hill this week made some overdue progress on public records last reform. It then totally muffed it on solar energy.
Massachusetts' restrictive public records laws have long been an embarrassment for a state that fancies itself a cradle of democracy. A bill that passed the House will help the state catch up with the rest of the nation. Most significantly, the law allows courts to award attorneys' fees and damages up to $5,000 should a state agency act in bad faith in denying a records request. There will be a presumption that records are public, rather than the opposite, and caps will be set on copying and labor fees.
On the down side, agencies and municipalities will be granted extensions past those in current law to comply with requests made by the press or public and the Legislature, judiciary and governor's office continue to be exempt from transparency laws, even though ending the exemption will supposedly be studied. In January, the bill will go to the Senate, which by doing better could improve the "F" score for lack of transparency given state government by the Sunlight Foundation.
With solar energy booming, developers have run headlong into the net metering cap that limits the amount of solar electricity produced by the private sector and public entities that can receive the retail rate for that electricity. Utilities, wed as they are to the fossil fuel industry, are building roadblocks, and the Baker administration doesn't see the cap as the obstacle it is.
The net metering cap is a clear hindrance to solar projects across the state, including here in the Berkshires. The cap threatens to cost the state economically should it prevent solar projects from qualifying for a federal financial incentive ending in 2016. An agreement on raising the cap must be agreed to by lawmakers early in the new year.