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Massachusetts Solars Up With Group Discounts

Massachusetts nabbed the top spot in our 2013 solar report card, its innovative solar programs are a big reason why.

In an impressive show of good old fashioned New England know-how, the state of Massachusetts bootstrapped it’s way to the number six spot nationwide for solar generating capacity in 2012.

A total of 133 MW was added last year, representing a 210 percent increase in solar investment dollars, a 65 percent increase in solar energy production, and 32 new jobs divvied up among 802 residences and businesses, including a zoo in the town of Southwick. 

The secret to the state’s success is an innovative rebate program called Solarize Massachusetts; essentially a group buying plan through which whole towns can access bulk purchasing discounts, driving prices down through as many as five discount levels as each additional participant opts in.

Though Massachusetts’ total solar generating capacity represents a mere 6.8 percent of California’s top-ranked spot and 18 percent of Arizona’s second-tier position for 2012, its solar surge is nonetheless an important achievement for the state’s environmental as well as economic health.

Massachusetts contains no naturally-existing coal, natural gas or oil to exploit and, as a result, energy consumers pay some of the highest energy rates in the country, most of which is money that leaves the state to become revenue for other states and foreign suppliers.

The hefty jump in solar production also represents a four-year jump on the state’s goal of 250 MW by 2017.

Set in place in 2007 by Governor Deval Patrick, the new policy, known as Commonwealth Solar II followed six years of a tepid incentive program begun in 2001 and which was funded through a fee charged to consumers of participating utility companies. The new policy instituted additional incentives that worked, attracting a wave of new solar companies into the state, bringing the number of installers up from 50 to 270.

The rebate program uses a formula of 40-cents per watt base incentive multiplied by system capacity up to 5 kilowatts. Conditional adders include a Massachusetts Company Components rebate of 5 cents per watt, a Moderate Home Value/Moderate Income rebate of 40 cents per watt and a Natural Disaster Relief rebate of $1 per watt. The rebates are subject to state and federal taxes and are classified as a grant for tax purposes. However, in the never-ending give and take that is the tax system, tax incentives, including a 30 percent federal credit and 15 percent state credit up to $1,000 of the purchase price, are built into the setup costs.

Home and business owners who take advantage of the Commonwealth Solar II rebates earn one SREC, Solar Renewable Energy Certificate, for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity generated, which they can sell back to the utility company for big bucks. They are also eligible for net metering, which ensures that home or business solar systems that generate more electricity than they use are compensated for the power they contribute to the grid at almost full retail rate.

The state’s rebate program has returned even stronger in 2013 with bulk purchasing incentives for communities that accept the challenge of reducing their energy consumption by 20 percent.

The program, together with other incentives, has created a total of 229 MW of solar power generating capacity throughout Massachusetts; enough to supply more than 30,000 homes or offset the fuel emissions of nearly 21,000 cars. Its success has inspired Massachusetts to raise its own bar, for a new goal of 400 MW and position the state further along the path to energy self sufficiency.

Last modified: December 14, 2018

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