State reaches solar goal 4 years early

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Massachusetts has exceeded its goal of 250 megawatts of installed solar capacity statewide – four years ahead of the schedule set in the Green Communities Act of 2008.

As of July 1, the state had more than 280 megawatts of total solar capacity – more than 90 times the solar capacity it had in 2007 (which was just 3 megawatts). The current level of solar capacity generates enough electricity to power 42,000 homes for a year.

In recognizing the achievement of 250 megawatts in May, then-Lt. Gov. Tim Murray noted the work of “municipal partners throughout the Commonwealth.” He also pointed out that the achievement supports “the state’s clean energy economy.”

The Green Communities Act created the Green Communities program, which offers grants and technical assistance to promote solar development and other energy efficiency measures in municipalities. There are currently 110 Green Communities statewide.

The Patrick administration has announced its next solar energy goal: 1,600 megawatts of installed solar capacity by 2020, which would generate enough electricity to power 240,000 homes for a year. The administration also set a target of 2,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020, or 20 times what exists today.

The success of solar energy in Massachusetts has been driven in large part by the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard Solar Carve-Out Program, a set of financial incentives that is capped at 400 megawatts. With 400 megawatts of projects submitted for qualification under the cap, the Department of Energy Resources filed emergency regulations in June to expand the program. Projects that applied for eligibility after the program capacity was reached will be eligible for program benefits if the projects meet certain criteria around stage of development and construction timeline as outlined in the emergency regulations.

The emergency regulations will remain in effect for 90 days without any further action, but the Department of Energy Resources is expected to announce a public comment period and hearing to allow the regulations to remain in effect through the construction timelines and until the next solar carve-out policy framework begins.

The department has held a stakeholder meeting to inform the next phase of policy development.

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Written by MMA Legislative Analyst J. Catherine Rollins