Massachusetts clean energy legislation makes it to governor’s desk

Newly passed landmark legislation will remove barriers that have limited access to solar energy for low-income households in Massachusetts. The new solar provisions, spearheaded by BlueHub Capital, a national nonprofit community finance organization, will make it easier for residents with low incomes to save money on their electric bills by more easily accessing solar energy, regardless of the community in which they live.

The bill, An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, was passed by the House of Representatives on March 18 and by the State Senate on March 15; it now awaits Governor Baker’s signature or veto. It includes several changes to state law that will drive down greenhouse gas emissions, create clean energy jobs, and protect environmental justice communities, in addition to the positive changes to solar policy.

The provisions of the bill that address barriers to solar power for residents with low incomes were sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston) and Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). BlueHub worked closely with Rep. Tom Golden (D-Lowell) and Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) as the chairs of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy last session.

“This groundbreaking law opens up a new opportunity for low-income families across Massachusetts to access clean solar energy and save money on their utility bills. We are deeply grateful to Senate President Spilka and House Speaker Mariano for prioritizing this important legislation and getting it done early in the legislative session. We thank Rep. Dykema and Sen. Eldridge for their tireless advocacy on behalf of low-income residents. And we are especially appreciative of Rep. Golden, Sen. Barrett and Rep. Jeff Roy for their commitment to include this important provision in the climate change bill that will help low-income families throughout our Commonwealth,” said DeWitt Jones, president of BlueHub Energy, an affiliate of BlueHub Capital. “In order to address the impacts of climate change, people of all incomes need to be part of the solution and this bill removes some of the key challenges to bringing solar power and the savings of solar energy to low-income residents.”

Key low-income solar provisions include:

  • Lifting geographic restrictions for participation in community shared solar programs. This will help eliminate barriers that have limited access to solar for low-income households and tenants in Boston, the surrounding communities, and many other environmental justice neighborhoods.
  • Requiring utility companies to allow alternative financing mechanisms for community shared solar programs so low-income residents are not locked into complicated, expensive and burdensome contracts.  This will significantly increase the number of residents with low incomes that can benefit from solar savings and also enhances consumer protections to ensure low-income participants save money on their electric bills.
  • Establishing requirements to ensure that low-income residents and environmental justice communities benefit from the design of future solar programs and policies.

SEIA praised the bill for clarifying tax treatment for solar projects.

“In order to grow the Massachusetts solar industry and create well-paying jobs, we need clarity and certainty in our tax laws. Solar developers and customers need to know the rules of the road, and this legislation clears up a loophole that could essentially double tax renewable energy customers. As a result of our negotiations, homeowners and small businesses that install solar systems won’t see property tax increases. Larger solar systems that already have an agreement in place for tax payments will also be exempt from additional taxes. These are reasonable compromises that will help to restore confidence in the way Massachusetts treats solar projects and customers,” said David Gahl, senior director of state policy for the East at SEIA. “The legislation also contains provisions that encourage the SMART program to serve more low- to moderate-income customers, and exempt businesses with on-site solar systems from the Commonwealth’s solar net-metering caps.”

News item from BlueHub Capital

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