As governor-elect Charlie Baker pieces together his administration, advocates for solar power are urging the Massachusetts Republican to make the renewable energy source a key initiative.
Environment Massachusetts highlighted its report that finds solar power can produce 20 percent of the commonwealth’s electricity consumption by 2025. Ben Hellerstein, campaign organizer for Environment Massachusetts, spoke on a conference call.
“We would need to grow solar by about 30 percent per year compare that to 127 percent annual growth we’ve seen over the last three years,” Hellerstein said. “With the right programs and policies in place we can do it. If we hit 20 percent solar by 2025, we’ll see the benefits all around us. We’ll cut as much carbon pollution as 1.2 million cars emit each year. We’ll support thousands of good paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.”
Just 1.4 percent of the state’s electricity consumption is currently produced by solar. The report says overall Massachusetts could produce two times the amount of electricity it uses by placing solar panels in landfills and on more than 700,000 rooftops. According to The Solar Foundation, the solar industry employed about 6,400 people in Massachusetts in 2013. Solar projects in the commonwealth produce 687 megawatts of electricity a year, which ranks sixth in the nation. Mark Sandeen is the founder of RePower Partners, a solar firm based in Lexington. He says paying more for solar installation leads to lower costs long-term.
“Five years ago Massachusetts residents were paying about 17 cents a kilowatt hour for their electricity,” Sandeen said. “Today they are paying 24 cents a kilowatt hour, about 40 percent more. Five years ago the cost of solar electricity was double the cost of conventional electricity. But today the cost of solar electricity is actually lower than the price of conventional electricity and that’s without incentives.”
Drew Grande of the Sierra Club says more solar capacity can reduce the reliance on fossil fuels like coal-fired power plants, which he says have negative health impacts.
“In areas where we have coal burning, like in Mount Tom out in Holyoke, we’ve seen a youth asthma rate that is almost three times the rate throughout the rest of Massachusetts,” Grande said. “Which puts an obvious economic burden on families with children that have asthma through increased health costs. It also increased absences both in school for the children when they have asthma attacks and also loss of work time for families taking care of sick children through hospitalizations and ER visits.”
Owners of the Mount Tom Power Station have announced plans to completely shut it down. After surpassing earlier goals ahead of schedule through incentive programs and legislation, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick has set a goal of 1,600 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020. Governor-elect Charlie Baker recently named fellow Republican and state representative Matt Beaton as secretary of energy and environmental affairs. During his campaign, Baker said he would strongly pursue a balanced approach on clean energy, but didn’t think tax breaks should be used to favor one renewable energy sector over another.
Environment Massachusetts has not yet met with Baker to discuss solar initiatives like net-metering programs.