MMA letter to conference committee in support of legislation to advance municipal solar projects

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The Honorable Thomas A. Golden, House Chair
The Honorable Michael J. Barrett, Senate Chair
Joint Committee Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy
State House, Boston
 
Dear Senator Barrett, Representative Golden, and Distinguished Committee Members,
 
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to urge your Committee to support legislation to ensure that cities and towns can continue their leadership role in developing vital renewable energy projects.
 
Clean and renewable energy is a top priority for cities and towns in Massachusetts. Municipalities have been instrumental in helping the Commonwealth exceed its goal of 1600 megawatts of solar far ahead of the 2020 schedule. For the seventh year in a row, Massachusetts has been ranked number one in the nation in energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Collectively, cities and towns are among the largest consumers of energy in Massachusetts, another reason why they prioritize renewable sources.
 
The MMA strongly urges your committee to act favorably on S. 1853, An Act Relative to Monthly Minimum Reliability Contributions, filed by Senator Gobi. S. 1853 would exempt municipal, low-income and community solar ratepayers from any monthly minimum reliability contribution (“MMRC”) charges. Chapter 75 of the Acts of 2016 already allows Department of Public Utilities to exempt or modify an MMRC for low-income ratepayers. The renewable energy legislation passed in 2016 preserved net metering credits at the retail rate for municipal and governmental projects. While, the same legislation allows utility companies to submit proposals to the Department of Public Utilities for an MMRC on those customers that receive net metering credits, we believe the imposition of such a charge would be a step backwards.
 
An added MMRC would negatively impact both new and existing municipal projects. Municipal budgets are very tightly balanced, and the addition of new monthly charges and fees would have a large and lasting deleterious impact on all municipalities that currently host or plan future projects. For existing projects, this would clearly impact the savings that communities have planned for and used as the basis for their decision-making. This would mean that municipalities that researched and chose to move forward with projects based on the projected savings could see a significant and unexpected change in their electricity costs, which would undermine the economic benefits for local taxpayers. This would place an unfair and costly burden on municipalities, who appropriately based their approvals, decision-making and budget frameworks on the understood and prevailing treatment of solar projects. New fees, in the form of an MMRC or other charges, not only affect communities’ and residents’ electric bills, but could have a serious impact on the future of solar and renewable energy in the Commonwealth.
 
The Eversource rate design proposal currently before the Department of Public Utilities includes an additional monthly minimum charge and a demand charge for net metering customers for certain types of projects. We have consistently and strongly opposed any such charges on municipal customers. The MMA supports a permanent exemption from the MMRC for new and existing municipal net metering customers. Municipalities want to continue to host and develop solar facilities and use clean energy, and adding these new costs would make it financially infeasible for many communities to do so going forward.
 
Another important issue before your Committee today is whether or not to raise the net metering cap. We strongly support lifting the net metering cap – this is an essential step that is needed to allow communities to continue their good work in helping Massachusetts meet its solar goals. The cap should be lifted as soon as possible. Otherwise, community-based solar projects will be delayed and uncertainty will envelop renewable energy projects that are in the planning stage.
 
Efforts to add MMRC charges, or delays in raising the net metering cap, would ultimately fall on local taxpayers in the form of higher property taxes or reduced services elsewhere in the budget. We urge the Committee to consider the impact that such changes would have on the ability of cities and towns to develop further solar energy capacity, and on our state’s role as a leader in renewable energy.
 
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in favor of S. 1853, and to provide comment on the need to increase the net metering cap. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues in the Legislature to ensure that solar and other types of renewable energy remain a viable option for cities and towns. If you have any questions, or desire further information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or Victoria Sclafani of the MMA staff at (617) 426-7272 at any time.
 
Thank you very much.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO