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Massachusetts Sets New Solar Energy Target


Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and other state officials announced yesterday a new target for solar energy installation in the commonwealth.

In his first term, Governor Patrick set a goal of reaching 250 megawatts of solar energy installed statewide by 2017. That goal has been reached four years early, prompting the Patrick-Murray Administration to set a new target of 1.6 gigwatts of solar power by 2020. 

Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rick Sullivan said that the rate of solar installation is increasing rapidly.

"Last year alone we installed 100 megawatts of solar power here in Massachusetts, and to put in perspective when the governor first took office there were just about 3 megawatts," said Sullivan.

Sullivan said that Massachusetts is the state with the second lowest costs for solar energy installation in the country. He pointed to initiatives that are working to lower the costs of solar for homeowners, including the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Solarize Mass program.

In a recent interview with WAMC, CEO of the MassCEC Alicia Barton said that the once solar is established in a home or business or municipal building, it becomes more popular for others to consider going solar.

"Once that happens you see a ripple effect," said Barton.

The Solarize Mass program, which is a group buy program that incentivizes communities to adopt solar energy at a discount rate, recently was opened to 10 more cities and towns across the state, including Lee and Williamstown. In 2012, Lenox and Pittsfield were involved in the program.

Energy prices in Massachusetts are comparatively higher than in many other states because of the state’s importing of fossil fuels. Secretary Sullivan said the ultimate goal is "to see the programs so that solar is cost-competitive with all other forms of electrical production."

Residential solar prices dropped 28 percent in Massachusetts last year according to a recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association. The drop was the second largest drop in solar prices in the country last year. Maryland had the highest price decline at 33%.

Democratic State Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecom, Utilities, and Energy, said that the next step in the legislative process to encourage solar adoption is creating an easier way to connect public or private solar facilities to the electrical grid.

"We have projects in Lee and Lenox, and in Adams that have been in the process of working through their connection to the grid with their utilities companies for some time," said Downing. "That process has to be come more predictable, more reliable. And that's going to require efforts by communities, by developers, and by the utilities themselves, and I know we'll be looking at that this session."

Because of the rapid growth of solar energy in the commonwealth, the state is also considering making revisions to its Renewable Portfolio Standard Solar Carve-Out, a market based incentive program that is currently capped at 400 megawatts.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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