Governor Baker signs new solar energy law

The West Tisbury Post Office building sports a new solar array. Building owner Steve Bernier also plans to install an array of solar photovoltaic panels and vehicle canopies at his adjacent Up-Island Cronig’s Market. — Photo by Sam Moore

Joined by Democratic legislative leaders, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday morning signed a solar energy bill that industry stakeholders said will unclog a pipeline of projects that had stalled after Massachusetts hit caps on the amount of excess power that can be sold back to the grid with incentives.

Mr. Baker, who had proposed his own legislation last year and watched as House and Senate lawmakers tried to negotiate a compromise since last November, lauded the final compromise on an issue that he called “really tough,” with interest groups on both sides raising “strong points of view and legitimate concerns.”

“That was easy, way easier for me than it was for you,” Governor Baker joked after signing the bill in his office.

The legislation approved last week by the House and Senate would raise the cap on net metering — the amount of solar power that can be sold back to the grid — by 3 percentage points for public and privately owned installations, while decreasing the value of the credits for power sold by many solar producing customers by about 40 percent.

Residential customers, municipalities, and small commercial projects would continue to receive retail rate credits, while existing projects would be grandfathered in at the retail rates they receive now for 25 years.

“I believe the legislature did a terrific job of listening to, processing, and managing their way through an extraordinarily broad number of points of view to settle on a bill that I believe creates the certainty and the path forward for Massachusetts to continue to be a leader in the solar industry while at the same time recognizing that there are legitimate issues around the cost and the benefits associated with the program historically that need to be addressed,” Governor Baker said.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg attended the bill-signing ceremony with members of the conference committee who helped negotiate the final bill.

“We all knew we had to give some to get to the resolution, and I think we got to a place where we can say to all of our constituents that solar will continue to grow and play a vital role here in Massachusetts, and it’s going to do so in a cost-effective way,” said Sen. Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat and the lead Senate negotiator on the solar bill.

Senator Downing said the legislature would likely have to revisit the caps within nine months to a year when they are again reached in the major utility services territories, underscoring the need, he said, to develop a “comprehensive process, as California, New York, and other states have gone through, that avoids this stop and start.”