Massachusetts solar backers say impasse taking toll on jobs, investments

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BOSTON — Angling to capitalize on recent momentum, solar industry executives, workers and municipal officials pushed Tuesday to get a bill to foster growth in the solar power industry over the finish line, repeating their warning that further delays will cost the state jobs and money.

It has been one year since the limit on incentives for homeowners and others to produce and sell solar power back to the grid was reached for customers served by National Grid. Since then, 550 solar projects have been stalled in Massachusetts and $618 million of investments have been put on hold, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

"Demand for solar in the commonwealth has never been higher, but the ability of ratepayers to access its benefits has never been more restricted," said Zaid Ashai, CEO of Nexamp, a Massachusetts-based commercial and community solar company. "If there's a silver lining here, it's that lawmakers have come to recognize the enormous potential of solar for their constituencies, and its importance as a driver of the Massachusetts economy."

After huddling at the Omni Parker House on Tuesday morning, industry representatives delivered a petition with 5,170 signatures to House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office and then visited other legislators to try to dislodge the bill that's been behind the closed doors of a conference committee for more than four months.

"We believe that the political environment is supportive and can be supportive with everybody's help today to get them over the finish line and create good, solid policies," said Paul Spencer, president and founder of the Clean Energy Collective. "It's of course imperative as we look forward at really being able to support various aspects of the state."

Ashai said the months-long impasse between lawmakers has cost Nexamp customers "millions of dollars" and has prevented even more in private investment from being drawn to the state. He touted his company as an example of the type of business that could thrive in Massachusetts if it enacts a stable, long-term solar policy.

"We've grown tremendously over the past eight years, but it's been very difficult to grow in an environment where you have legislative hiccups every year," he said. "It's very difficult to grow a business and make investments when you have no foresight into what the legislative environment is going to be."

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of 100 House lawmakers signed onto a letter to their own negotiators urging them to raise net metering caps, resist cuts in metering credit values, and advance a bill for floor debate as soon as possible.

Though House and Senate negotiators have yet to reach common ground on H 3854 and S 2058, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the talks have been productive.

"Heard today everyone is feeling good in terms of where they are," DeLeo told reporters Monday afternoon. "I can't say their feeling good has translated to completion of the bill, but I think there's general feeling that they're heading in the right direction."

DeLeo said he would like to see the solar bill resolved before tackling an omnibus energy bill that is expected to deal with hydroelectricity and wind power. The speaker has said he expects that bill to emerge for consideration in April.

Thomas Barrasso, director of energy and environment for Amesbury, said he has been waiting for a year to put a shovel in the ground on projects that would put solar panels on top of two landfills in that town, producing 10 megawatts of power and generating $5 million to $15 million in savings over 20 years.

"All of this lack of momentum has caused an upset in your industry and an upset from the municipal users," he told the room full of solar industry representatives. "As long as we see some movement and see some revenue stream from both of those useless properties, the city of Amesbury will be more than happy to support solar development."

Critics of the state's solar policies say the cost of building solar projects has dropped substantially and lawmakers should resist locking in on "subsidies" that they say will saddle ratepayers for years, driving up already high energy prices.


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