Cape delegation opposes DPU decision

Cape Light Compact aims to provide renewable energy on the Cape and the Vineyard.

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Solar panels on the roof of a home in Vineyard Haven. — Eunki Seonwoo

Seven delegates from the Cape and Islands, including state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, have sent out a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in opposition to the department’s decision to reject a proposal by Cape Light Compact to convert 250 low-income and moderate-income deed-restricted homes to renewable energy on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. The letter also requested that the department approve similar programs in the future. 

The pilot program the compact proposed to the department, the Cape and Vineyard Electrification Offering, was a part of its 2022–24 energy efficiency plan. Cape Light Compact administrator Maggie Downey said the offering would replace fossil-fuel-powered heating systems, such as oil or propane, with high-efficiency heat pumps paired with solar photovoltaic cells and battery storage. According to a press release, the plan would provide cold-climate heat pumps, solar photovoltaic systems, and battery storage systems to 150 homes below 60 percent of the state median income, and 100 homes below 80 percent of the state median income across the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. The estimated state median income for a family of four is $131,252, according to Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program Clearinghouse.

Downey told The Times the proposed program would focus on the towns on the Vineyard and Outer Cape “because they don’t have natural gas,” but the number of homes that would be served would be based on applicant amounts and feasibility. 

“There’s no specific number. You don’t target a town, because the house has to be technically feasible. The technology has to work. The house needs to be oriented, it has to be capable of installing solar, it has to be capable of installing heat pumps, so you don’t limit yourselves; it has to be deed-restricted for income eligibility,” Downey said. She added that these houses need to be the applicants’ primary dwellings. 

The compact believed this was consistent with the 2018 Green Communities Act, but DPU rejected the program in January. 

Danielle Burney, deputy communications director of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which DPU is a part of, said the decision to reject the proposal took into consideration relevant laws, such as the 2018 Green Communities Act. According to Burney, the reasoning behind the rejection surrounds the already existing Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program. SMART, which is a solar incentive program, is available state-wide, and is required “to be less expensive for ratepayers than the prior solar incentive programs.” Burney said the compact was trying to make an additional solar incentive program without this requirement, and would serve “only 250 customers.”

“Therefore, the DPU declined to duplicate efforts that would cause inefficiencies and inequities,” Burney told The Times in an email. 

Burney said the department recognizes the need to encourage people to convert to energy efficiency and renewable energy. So it directed program administrators to make “a co-delivery strategy of energy efficiency under the Green Communities Act and solar incentives under the SMART program.”

The compact appealed the decision to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and is waiting for a court date. “Hopefully, we’ll get dates in the fall,” Downey said. “We’re in a holding pattern until this issue gets resolved.” 

The compact will continue to advocate for the program while it waits, making a cooperative effort with the delegates, according to Downey. In the meantime, Cape Light Compact can still do home energy assessments, heat loans for residential battery systems, and other services for Cape and Island customers. 

1 COMMENT

  1. I am all for the program, but why the batteries ?
    If these houses are not “off grid”, there is really little need for a battery storage system.
    When the panels are producing excess power on a sunny day and the homeowner is not home, the power goes into the grid.
    When the sun goes down, the house then receives power from the grid.
    The grid is in effect, the storage system.
    That hookup is the industry standard, I believe.
    Except for the occasional power outage, I see no need for the batteries.
    I am sure they are an expensive component of this program, and a separate monitoring system needs to be installed for the battery.
    But my main concern here is that todays modern lithium-ion batteries are not all that eco friendly. The processes to mine lithium are extremely detrimental to local eco systems and local communities around these extraction sites. Also, these batteries are difficult to recycle. There is currently a concerted effort by the industry to deal with the recycling issue, as this is obviously a billions of dollars market niche But they have yet to hit the price point where recycled lithium is cheaper than virgin lithium.
    I think these batteries should be reserved for mobile applications, (like vehicles) and be used only rarely in private homes.
    Of course, I am not in the business of having anything to do with these systems, and could just be blowing smoke about the need for the batteries, but the environmental costs of lithium and other rare earth metals in them are well documented.
    Could someone who knows more than me, please comment here.
    Thanks.

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