Baker to locals: Press ahead with solar projects

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Written by Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE — Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday urged local officials to encourage the construction of new solar energy projects, despite the fact that the cap on the amount of solar power that can be sold back to the grid has already been hit for nearly half the state’s communities.

Baker, who last month filed legislation that would lift the cap on what’s known as net metering, said during a meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission that installing solar generators can still be financially worthwhile even without the ability to sell the extra electricity to the grid at retail rates.

“A cap does not mean that there is no benefit financially to a community, to a household, to a commercial property owner going ahead and doing a solar project,” Baker said. “All a cap means is that you get reimbursed on the net meter at a wholesale price rather than retail.”

[Watch Clip: Baker on Solar Energy]

In March, the net metering cap was hit for the 171 cities and towns served by National Grid. A part of Baker’s bill, filed in the House, would raise the caps on net metering by 2 percent for both public and private entities.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Massachusetts Municipal Association Vice President Lisa Hall Blackmer asked Baker to work with Senate and House leaders to fast-track the bill, which she said shows he understands what communities need.

In the meantime, Baker said, municipal leaders should not let developers shy away from solar projects out of fear they won’t be profitable. He said there are still benefits with the cap, just smaller ones.

“I get the fact that if you can have a double scoop of ice cream instead of a single scoop, you’d want the double one,” Baker said.

He called on officials to not let the cap serve as a deterrent to new solar projects, noting that in some cases, the difference between wholesale and retail reimbursement rates could mean a developer breaks even in five years rather than four.

Baker also told the council’s members that they should move quickly on solar projects regardless of whether the cap is lifted, citing a federal solar tax credit set to expire at the end of next year.

“It’s important that we make sure communities, families, commercial developers, landlords, everybody here in Massachusetts who has the opportunity to pursue solar projects, pursues it while that tax credit is still available, because there’s a lot of debate about whether or not it will be reauthorized,” the governor said.

Copyright State House News Service