NORTH ADAMS — For years Massachusetts has proudly led our nation's growing solar energy economy, harnessing local sunshine and local innovation to create jobs and lower energy bills in communities across the Commonwealth. But today that leadership is at risk, and we need Gov. Baker and our state legislators to take bold action.
Our locally-owned and operated solar installation companies are located statewide, from Martha's Vineyard to the Berkshires, and range in size from eight to 80 employees. Collectively, we employ more than 400 solar workers who installed 1,500 solar systems for nearly 20 megawatts of solar power capacity just last year. Our organizations have been in business for 15 years on average, so we have seen the Massachusetts solar market grow from its very beginning.
Last week, we learned that the number of solar workers in Massachusetts dropped by 21 percent, the second largest decline of any state in the nation, from the Solar Foundation's 2017 Solar Jobs Census. Massachusetts lost more solar jobs — 3,000 — than were gained by 20 other states combined. This marks the second year in a row of job losses in what should be, and has been for the past decade, a bright spot in our local economy. The Commonwealth still ranks among the leading solar employers in the U.S., but the fact that new residential solar installations declined by half — from over 23,000 in 2016 to approximately 10,000 in 2017 — is a worrying trend from a state that claims to be leading the nation on clean energy and climate.
Hit from many angles
The decline in last year's solar installation and employment numbers was caused by a combination of national market trends and state policy uncertainty — including a long-running and frustratingly intermittent cap on one of Massachusetts' most successful solar programs (net metering), and a much-longer-than-expected development effort for the state's next solar compensation program.
And already in the first month of 2018, Massachusetts regulators rubber-stamped an unfair new charge that will hike bills for future solar customers of the Commonwealth's largest utility, Eversource. The only other time a utility has imposed this type of confusing and costly "demand charge" on residential customers was in Arizona in 2015, and it resulted in an astounding 95 percent decrease in solar adoption by the utility's customers. Adding insult to injury, President Trump approved an additional misguided 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels, which puts even more of our solar installation jobs at risk as federal uncertainty turns to outright hostility.
State must step up
Given the assault on solar in Massachusetts, our local green economy cannot afford anything less than bold leadership from Massachusetts policymakers to get us through this troubled time. State leaders have the power to raise the restrictive net metering cap, reverse the Eversource solar tax, thoughtfully implement the new SMART compensation program, and require an independent Value of Solar study to inform future policy that will allow communities, businesses and families of all income levels to go solar.
When it comes to healthy, job-creating, affordable clean energy, we need Massachusetts to be leading the charge, not taking steps backward. And we need that leadership to come right from the top. Now is the time for Gov. Baker and our Legislature to work together to overcome these headwinds with strong solar policy so businesses like ours can keep investing, creating jobs and serving the people of Massachusetts.
Christopher Kilfoyle is president of Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, North Adams. The column is signed by the heads of the following solar energy companies based in Massachusetts:
Russell Aney, Avid Solar, Holden; Daniel Mello Guimaraes, Boston Solar, Woburn; Conrad Geyser, Cotuit Solar, Cotuit; Jason Stoots, E2 Solar, Dennis; Andrew Wade, My Generation Energy, Denni; Mark Durrenberger, New England Clean Energy, Hudson; Greg Garrison, Northeast Solar, Hatfield; Bill Stillinger, PV Squared Solar, Greenfield; James Manzer, ReVision Energy, North Andover; Claire Chang, Solar Store of Greenfield, Greenfield; Matt Arner, Solar Flair, Ashland; Rob Meyers, South Mountain Company, West Tisbury; Ben Mayer, SunBug Solar, Arlington and Westfield; Mike Logan, Sunlight Solar Energy, Waltham.