DOER issues draft solar rules, while DPU works on energy issues

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On July 5, the Department of Energy Resources filed emergency regulations on its new solar incentive program, the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program.
 
The regulations (225 CMR 20.00) follow an extensive stakeholder process that began in September 2015.
 
The SMART program will be a successor to the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) II program. The new program will change the regulatory structure of solar incentives.
 
Officials at the DOER say the SMART program is designed to provide more revenue certainty. The program would be for 1,600 megawatts and would have a declining block structure. Base compensation rates would be set according to project size. Compensation rates would decline by set percentages in each block.
 
The regulations lay out a structure that would allow for additional incentives beyond the base compensation rates based on a number of factors, including the type of land on which a project is located.
 
The MMA weighed in on several aspects of the proposal, urging the DOER to take into account the economic feasibility of solar projects for cities and towns. The MMA expressed concerns that caps and restrictions on the incentives could make it difficult for communities to participate in solar projects.
 
In order to take advantage of the incentive for public projects, where municipalities are the owner or operator or receive 100 percent of the output, the proposed regulations require that a solar project be located on public land. The MMA explained that some communities want to use solar energy, but don’t have available public land. Allowing communities to be eligible for the incentive for projects located on private land would create more flexibility for municipalities.
 
The MMA also urged the DOER to ensure that the program supports stability for municipalities and to keep in mind the potential uncertainty that could arise for municipalities when the net metering cap is reached and if utilities add new fees or increase rates for municipal customers.
 
The Department of Public Utilities has reopened its proceedings on the monthly minimum “reliability” contribution. Legislation passed in 2016 contained a provision allowing utility companies to submit proposals to the DPU for a monthly minimum reliability contribution that would be included on electric bills for those receiving net metering credits, subject to the approval of the DPU.
 
The MMA raised concerns about the reliability contribution during the legislative process and expressed concerns about the DPU’s regulatory process. The MMA has called a “monthly minimum reliability contribution” on existing projects “an unfair and costly burden on municipalities, who appropriately based their approvals, decision-making and budget frameworks on solar projects without consideration of a ‘minimum reliability contribution.’” The MMA urged the DPU to exempt municipal net metering from any new fees and surcharges.
 
The DPU is soliciting comments on several details relative to the date when 1,600 megawatts of solar is installed in the Commonwealth and how it is calculated. Under Chapter 75 of the Acts of 2016, the DPU may only approve a proposal for a monthly minimum reliability contribution after the capacity of solar facilities in the Commonwealth has reached 1,600 megawatts.
 
The DPU has reopened this proceeding due to a related petition filed by Eversource seeking an increase in its base distribution rates and approval of a monthly minimum reliability contribution.