Thursday, February 21, 2013

Incentives Push Massachusetts Residents to Go Solar

To be green, sometimes you need to spend a little green. That’s the lesson Massachusetts officials have learned by enticing homeowners to invest in renewable energy through tax breaks, rebates and other economic incentives.

Since 1979, Massachusetts has offered a $1,000, one-time tax credit to homeowners who install solar systems, but that incentive didn’t exactly push residents to invest in these relatively costly systems.

What really drove the solar energy market, according to Dwayne Breger, director of the Division of Renewable Energy at the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), was the legislature’s passage in 2008 of the Green Communities Act. Among its most notable initiatives, the legislation established one of the nation’s first renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS), requiring that 15 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2020. For the record, Rhode Island beat its neighbor to the north by establishing an RPS four years earlier at 16 percent by the end of 2019.

To enact this and other green legislation, the state created the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) in 2009. The agency started providing rebates to homeowners, businesses and municipalities that installed solar power systems with the capacity to generate up to 15 kilowatts.

DOER also implemented a solar carve-out program, which issues a solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) to solar system owners for each megawatt-hour of electricity they generate. SRECs trade at market value, which floats currently between $200 and $250 apiece — a price often higher than fossil fuel-generated electricity. Retail electric suppliers gobble up these certificates, as they are required by state law to buy a certain number of them annually in support of renewable energy production.

If homeowners are hesitant to invest in the upfront costs of a photovoltaic system, third-party businesses have stepped in to fill the void by installing the equipment and racking up SRECs while hosts enjoy lower energy costs.

“It may take an upfront cost, but the payback with incentives is quite strong,” Breger said. “If you don’t want to have the upfront cost, you can do the third-party arrangement and have small but immediate energy-cost savings over time.

So far, nearly 4,000 residential solar projects have been installed and only 10 of the state’s 351 cities and towns don’t have some form of solar activity, Breger said.

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