Regulations required the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to review the state’s SMART program after 400 MW of solar capacity was accepted into the program. The review is now complete, according to the Greenfield Recorder. On September 5, DOER issued a straw proposal with changes to the program. This news came a day after Vote Solar released a report saying DOER must triple the SMART program’s megawatts to reach the state’s climate goals.
DOER is now accepting input from stakeholders and the public. Solar advocacy groups weighed in on the proposed changes.
The Solar Energy Industries Association expressed mixed feelings.
“DOER’s proposal reflects a thoughtful review of the most pressing challenges and questions that have emerged during the initial phase of the SMART program,” said David Gahl, senior director of state affairs, northeast, at SEIA, in a statement. “Among the changes, DOER is addressing implementation difficulties and is encouraging energy storage use and solar systems serving businesses and on-site energy needs. While we are pleased to see this progress, significant concerns remain. Most importantly, the 800-MW expansion is insufficient — it will not meet near-term customer demand, provide certainty to solar firms, or achieve the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals.”
The community solar sector was not pleased with the update. The Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) issued a statement saying it is concerned about the DOER’s land use proposals and the small size of the solar program expansion in the draft:
“In particular, community solar providers are concerned that they would be effectively ending the most widely accessible part of the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program.
“’As the Commonwealth strives to meet its ambitious climate change goals, the proposal laid out today makes meeting that challenge more difficult,’ said Jeff Cramer, executive director for CCSA. ‘At the same time, we are concerned that DOER’s proposed changes will make solar more expensive in the state and effectively eliminate a critically important tool for more equitable solar access.’
“With 3-out-of-4 Massachusetts households not suitable for rooftop solar, community solar is critical to expanding access to solar energy regardless of housing type or income level. Community solar is an essential component of the ‘all-of-the-above strategy’ needed to achieve Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard target of 35% by 2030 and to be on track towards the 80% greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets by 2050.
“CCSA recommends that DOER consider the following changes to help the SMART program serve more customers while ensuring appropriate solar farm siting:
- Revise and restructure greenfield subtractor provisions to ensure community solar remains a viable and readily available option for those who cannot get rooftop solar
- Ensure that land use proposals are carefully calibrated and commensurate with observable and documented land use changes
- Review and revise the timing of implementing these provisions to ensure that mature projects currently under development can proceed under existing rules to avoid unnecessary market disruption
- Increase the state’s solar goal by at least 3,200 megawatts for SMART to ensure that Massachusetts can meet its existing climate change obligations
- Support local cities and towns in developing zoning and siting criteria that fit their respective community needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach set by the state.
- Ensure that farmers can continue to host large-scale, ground mounted solar projects to help Massachusetts farms remain economically viable.
“’We recognize that this proposal is a first draft and we continue to sift through the details,’ Cramer continued. ‘That is why we look forward to engaging with policymakers to create a balanced solution that will continue to grow community solar, expand access to underserved communities and keep Massachusetts as a clean energy leader.'”
The public can submit comments on the program by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “400 MW Review Public Comments” by Friday, September 20.