Wednesday November 28, 2012

I take exception to the Nov. 26 editorial "Solarizing success" supporting a state-run program called Solarize Massachusetts.

Massachusetts offers two principal subsidies to homeowners who install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to generate electricity. One is a rebate to PV buyers of $0.40 per installed watt. For a five kilowatt (5,000 watt) system (installed at a cost of about $25,000) the rebate would be $2,000. With the other, an owner of a PV system earns one Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) for each megawatt-hour of power generated per year. A kilowatt of installed capacity generates about 1.2 megawatt-hours a year, so that five kilowatt system would yield six SRECs annually. They can be sold through a state-run auction, in which one SREC was most recently priced at about $200. So the owner of that system would get about $1,200 a year from selling his six SRECs.

All this is separate from the Solarize Massachusetts program, under which in 2012 the state promoted solar in 17 cities and towns, including Pittsfield and Lenox, and invited solar installers to submit bids to be chosen as the sole Solarize installer in those localities. The editorial implies that Solarize is a "state-subsidized program." But the two subsidies described above will continue to be available to all residential PV owners in every city and town even if the Solarize Mass program were terminated.

Indeed, as I have previously argued in a column in the Eagle, it should be ("Wrong way to sell celery or solar," Aug. 6). As a progressive who believes government should play an active role in the economy, including providing subsidies for and education about solar, I nonetheless view Solarize Mass as an unnecessary and wrong-headed intervention in the marketplace. Solar is booming in Massachusetts without the Solarize program. Most of the Solarize installers selected were out-of-state companies who became beneficiaries of the state subsidies and gained an unfair competitive advantage against local solar firms.

It would be impractical for Massachusetts to extend the Solarize promotion to all its cities and towns. It would also be illegal for the state to do so and thereby effectively control which solar installers can do business where. Rather than rising again in 2013, as the editorial advocates, the Solarize Mass. program should be sunsetted.

STEVE NELSON

Washington