Taking steps to mitigate climate change is on the minds of many Martha’s Vineyard residents and officials. Among the various ways toward a greener community, solar energy is one option communities are looking at for reducing their carbon footprint. However, as Edgartown resident Michael Benjamin found out, actually implementing that has its challenges.
In a Dec. 21 Letter to the Editor, Benjamin outlined the process he undertook to be hit by Eversource’s statement that his “application has been put on indefinite hold due to a Capital Investment Project under review” by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU). What was supposed to be his next step in contributing to climate change mitigation became a major headache.
“My situation is that to apply for solar, the process is a little — I’ve learned this going into it — it’s guesswork. You put in an application, and Eversource comes back with their answer, but they don’t give you a lot of details,” Benjamin told The Times.
The solar company Benjamin was working with, Cotuit Solar, suggested he go for the 27-kilowatt system, estimated to cost $72,000, because “that would provide 100 percent of the power I use on a monthly basis.” However, Eversource said Benjamin would need to pay $12,000 to upgrade the area’s equipment for a system of that size.
“I thought to myself … if I want to go solar and net zero, my usage is so much that Eversource wants me to pay $12,000, I’m not sure why I’m responsible for upgrading their grid,” Benjamin told The Times. When Benjamin discussed this with Cotuit, he was told Eversource’s note asking for $12,000 stated there might be less of a connectivity charge if the system size was under 20 kilowatts. Benjamin applied again for a smaller system, but was put on hold because of the DPU review. Another difficulty is the loan Benjamin secured in April from the Capital Good Fund in preparation for the solar upgrade. The delays from Eversource and now the DPU blockage forced him to ask for the loan payments to be deferred a couple of times. He had already paid $500 in October and November loan payments before he received notice about the “indefinite hold.” Benjamin’s next payment is set for April, and he is applying for a 15-kilowatt system, which will hopefully start installation in June.
“One of the frustrating things with Eversource and them not being very [forthcoming] with what one can and cannot do — I will be out $900 in application fees, $600 of which were the second two, and probably about a thousand dollars in loan fees before I can flip the solar switch,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin, looking at his own situation, wondered whether willing individuals dealing with a “mysterious” Eversource process was really the best for solar conversion.
“I worry for this country and for this state. We can’t do better than this?” Benjamin said, pointing out climate change concerns. “From where I sit, I did my part. I got a $70,000 loan, filled out a lot of paperwork, designed the system, we had some inspections … I’ve done everything that I can.”
While Benjamin did not “want to throw them under the bus,” he also felt disappointed that Cotuit “didn’t have their ear [to the ground] with some of this stuff,” despite being the experts.
“I’ve heard from some that it might be two years before the DPU gets this whole thing approved,” Benjamin said, convincing him “solar will not be much of a contributor to helping climate change in the near future,” despite the available technology.
Benjamin said he hopes the government will be able to provide funding for grid improvements to be able to handle properties with solar energy plans. He also believes “the big picture” is power companies “move slowly to change, move slowly to upgrade” because “they don’t want to spend money.” Benjamin said despite potential costs, getting “the grid up to snuff” needs to be a priority against climate change.
Eversource spokesperson Chris McKinnon said, “There is no financial incentive to Eversource to slow down solar development,” and the company’s “only incentive is to ensure safety and reliability of electric service” to areas where solar development pushed equipment to its limits. McKinnon said Eversource “interconnected thousands” of solar power projects over the past decade.
“In some areas like Martha’s Vineyard, the system is reaching its limit for additional power capacity. Significant system upgrades are necessary to accommodate larger interconnection projects, while ensuring the safety and reliability of the electric system for all customers,” McKinnon said in a statement.
According to McKinnon, the system infrastructure improvements need to be approved “through a regulatory process,” which led Eversource to propose the capital investment project program based on the “beneficiary pays” principle with DPU, which would “allow for the cost-sharing system modifications and upgrades” if approved.
“Under current state regulation, we are not allowed to build and recover the costs of this added infrastructure to accommodate solar projects, meaning any necessary system upgrades for interconnections must be paid by the project customer that triggers the work,” McKinnon said.
Rob Meyers, director of energy technology at South Mountain Co., said, “The threshold of 15 kilowatts … is fairly arbitrary.”
“It was set a while ago, and many residential systems are exceeding that threshold for capacity as citizens of the commonwealth and the Vineyard move to go all-electric. They’re looking to get off of fossil fuels, and one way to do that is to switch from oil or propane to electric heat pumps and, of course, [driving] an electric vehicle. That means the solar required at the residential scale is higher in capacity than it has been historically,” Meyers said.
Ten kilowatts was “the [residential] threshold mentioned loosely” for years, according to Meyers.
Meyers said there are avenues Eversource can take “to review these residential applications under the current technology and get them through.” He also mentioned “An Act driving clean energy and offshore wind,” signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in August, raised the 10-kilowatt threshold to 25 kilowatts.
“These systems, 15 kilowatts and up, are all grouped into one category. So a homeowner looking to install just over 15 kilowatts is treated the same as an institutional solar project that wants to install maybe 250 kilowatts, significantly more capacity,” he said.
Several South Mountain Co. clients are looking to make the jump to solar or expand upon it, but they need to wait for the Eversource-DPU hurdle to clear.
“At least one or two of those clients have already made the switch from fossil fuels to heat pumps as a first step to get off of carbon. This next step, they’re being blocked,” Meyers said.
According to McKinnon’s statement, Massachusetts regulation classifies interconnection projects as “simplified or expedited,” which means they either generate over 15 kilowatts (single-phase) or over 25 kilowatts (three-phase). While the review takes place, “these larger projects have been put on hold.” However, he expects a decision will be made in the coming months. If approved, the applicants would not be the only one covering “costs for necessary equipment upgrades.” Instead, this would be shared by all customers, since the upgrades “benefit both interconnection and distribution system.”
“Additionally, while the process to adjust regulatory policy and implement these infrastructure improvements takes place, we will continue to process and approve smaller projects (under 15kW single-phase and 25kW three-phase) like the residential market, which comprises approximately 92 percent of our projects,” McKinnon said.
Danielle Burney, deputy director of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, provided further information about the process to The Times. Recognizing how paying for the infrastructure upgrades for larger solar systems may be too expensive for some, the DPU conducted an investigation “into the [electric distribution companies’] distributed energy resource planning and interconnection of [distributed generation facilities].” This led to an interim framework called the “Provincial System Planning Program.” In December, the DPU approved Eversource’s capital investment project proposal for the Marion-Fairhaven area.
Martha’s Vineyard isn’t the only place dealing with solar difficulties stemming from their electric service companies and the DPU, according to Meyers, who mentioned Freetown, Blanford, Cape Cod, and other communities. Meyers hopes solar advocates contacting their state representatives, such as Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) or Julian Cyr (D-Truro), about improving Massachusetts’ solar infrastructure can spur efforts forward. Until the review is complete, some who want to transition to solar are essentially in a holding period.
“We’re sort of at the mercy of this barrier. We’re waiting to see when this clears,” Meyers said, adding that he hopes Gov. Maura Healey “will take quick action on this in her first hundred days in office.”
When asked about other energy providers people can turn to for greener options, Meyers said, “Any ratepayer in Massachusetts … has the option to choose competitive supply.” However, he cautioned that consumers should be careful to see whether the alternative offer shows a teaser rate, and whether the green energy is sourced from the state.
“It’s not helping anyone in the commonwealth if you’re buying green energy that’s produced in Texas. That doesn’t really help our climate footprint,” he said.
On Martha’s Vineyard, a goal is for the towns to be carbon-free and powered by renewable energy by 2040. Ben Robinson, an Island leader in climate change and resiliency, said, “We need to install as much [solar] as we can on the Island” to augment energy and climate resiliency on Martha’s Vineyard.
“Currently the Island produces a bit over 8 percent of the total electrical energy we consume via Island solar generation. Of course, the best and most important thing we can do in the short term is slow down the need for more energy in total — demand reduction is critical to help us meet those aspirational goals,” Robinson said.
Benjamin said he sent letters to newspapers, and contacted members of Congress and state legislators, because solar is “critically important.”
“Never mind my little situation; I may never get solar on my roof. It may not happen for me,” Benjamin said. “Eversource, the DPU, whoever you want to blame, the grid, whatever that’s the roadblock … they have to get it together fast, and we could really solve a problem.”
If you’re talking to Eversource I was forced to give Eversource $37,000 to upgrade their system on a public road several years ago. They promised me a partial return of my contribution based on our KW used over a 5 year period. Now I can’t get them to even respond. I’m considering a lawsuit.
You don’t have to pay Eversource anything to install solar.
As long as you do not tie into their wires.
If you want to sell your excess power you will have to pay Eversource to upgrade their system to accommodate your output.
If we were a Socialist country the government would pay for everything.
Please tell me why as an Eversource rate payer I should be paying to help Mr. Benjamin with his solar program that only benefits him. Eversource explained why they need to up grade because of his system and Eversource passes all their costs onto all the rate payers. This is only fair to all rate payers and not just for the ones who have access to lots of money and have lots of open space for a solar field. It all ready is not fair with state and federal money Mr. Benjamin will get that all tax payers are paying for is not right. Because I have no room for solar and no money for solar I still have to pay for others to get the reward.
Solar benefits us all.
Take deep breath and think about it.
Solar and wind are not a matter of if but of how fast.
Think fuel cost.
Eversource is in the busisness of transporting electricity.
The generators of electricity must pay to have it transported.
When a house generates more power than it consumes someone must pay to transport it.
If the size of your solar array has more output than your single phase utility feed who should pay to upgrade to three phase.
Three phase is more efficient but has a higher installation cost.
Who should pay?
The person making no changes?
Actually everyone saves in many ways when anyone goes solar. Without discussing the environmental contribution, The largest increase on Eversource’s annual budget is increased infrastructure to accommodate increased public usage. With solar they do not have to expand as much and can pass those savings to you. However electric cars will now cause an increase in infrastructure but most of us will be driving electric cars in ten years anyway.
Eversource is not in the energy generation busisness, they are in the busisness of transporting electricity.
Who should pay the upgrade costs to accommodate solar output?
From the DPU website.
“ When people go solar, they are usually still tied to the grid. Thus, customers can receive electricity even if their panels aren’t producing enough to meet their usage demands. Overall, the more people install solar, the lower the stress on the grid. By slowing demand for utility-provided energy, solar also reduces infrastructure update needs. Best of all, solar decreases the amount of time utilities must turn on dirty power plants, in summary solar reduces cost for everyone”
There is no requirement to tie your solar system into the grid.
If you install enough solar and battery you will have no need to be tied into Eversource.
Eversource will have no need to do an upgrade if you choose to operate solar only when it has enough output to meet your demand.
It would function the same as a backup gas generator.
A grid tie would be much cheaper.
It comes down to who should pay for costs necessary to accommodate your equipment?
Just you or all of Eversource’s customers?
To manufacture each EV battery, you must process 25,000 pounds of brine for the lithium 30,000 pounds of ore for the cobalt 5,000 pounds of ore for the nickel, 25,000 pounds of ore for copper Digging up 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust For just – one – battery. Charging takes time, you get 300 miles at most. Expensive vehicle subsidized by government. Making the battery uses a high degree of fossil fuel for mining the ingredients plus toxic chemicals. Carbon footprint lower than gas engine but not significant. No thanks.
If you spent 1/10 of the time doing research as you do commenting here you would know that you are a fountain of misinformation.
Everything we do in modern society has environmental impacts. If you suggest with your imaginary numbers that we should stop mining all raw materials than say so, but don’t try to hold new technologies to higher standards than every other product we use on a daily basis.
Your constant attacks against clean energy are unproductive. Either do some research, volunteer to make change or sail quietly into the sunset so those of us actually interesting in building a brighter future can take over.
Happy to chat with you directly and correct all the misinformation you have been vomiting in the comment section for years.
You havent told me which facts are wrong and imaginary. you simply spew an opinion. I love clean energy if it is cost effective but dont support religious hysteria on climate which forces poor people to pay for vaguery. As for misinformation please give me an example and we can chat. My opinions and information is widely held by millions of conservatives in this county. Mr Travers below might be one of them.
Just because you are a conservative doesn’t mean science doesn’t apply to you. Climate change is happening, and no one (myself included) is qualified to have a different opinion than the experts unless they are doing peer reviewed computer models.
See page 9 here for what the experts agree on: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGII_SummaryForPolicymakers.pdf
Thank you for the breakdown. Changes the dynamic a bit for sure. It would be nice if the EV advocates stopped for a moment and looked at the facts. I too love our earth but there is a distinct line between fantasy and fact. Electric vehicles sound “environmentally friendly” but obviously those batteries do not grow on trees. Disposing of these items after they have served a purpose will be a serious challenge and actually end up being counter productive in every way imaginable. As far as pollution goes, America as a whole is proactive in many different ways. It is the unregulated countries that are the real culprits when it comes to pollution and no matter how “green” that we go, they will not.
Does gasoline grow on trees?
Why are UPS, FedEx, and Amazon using electric trucks?
They know how to count beans?
Can you supply documentation for your own assertions?
It pretty well established that the renewables “revolution” depends on continuing use of so-called fossil fuels.
Who pays how much is being discussed.
Would you like us to believe that people who do not have solar plants at their home benefit the same as you? That is a bit ridiculous in that you have bragged in the past about the electric company owing you money. I do not have solar I do not have room for solar, and I should not be paying for you to receive checks from the electric company. you installed solar because you had the space because you had the kickbacks from the federal government and because you have the resources to wait out the investment of 5 to 7 years for the profits to roll in. The small extra cost Eversource adds to it it’s all part of the deal.
Me neither, I’ll stay with a Ram diesel.
There will always be a few dinosaurs.
I guess the idea that electric vehicles have quicker pickup, less maintenance, and cost about 1/5 per mile to get from point “A” to point ” B” in fuel costs doesn’t appeal to some people.
But I get it– it’s more important for some to show off their noisy attention getting gas guzzler that they can leave idling to drown out any noises like those pesky birdsongs and stink up the parking lot with poisonous fumes while they go into the beer store and get beer, vodka, beef jerky and scratch tickets. It does get attention, and the police don’t seem to have any intention of enforcing the laws that are already on the books about poisoning innocent passers by.
Where is the juice from the windfarm going if the mom and pop folks are having a hard time? I would like to hear from a young plain talking islander who wil grow and monitor this smoke and mirrors as it proceeds into our waters-As far as i can see vineyard wind has been swallowed alive by foreign companies Jack Wadleigh the ball is in your court..How about an article in THE TIMES every week the tech ischanging as fast as the players and corporations Chinese folks are doing a swell job making solar panels they dont seem hip on wind farms why not? Our block island pals lost their cable and windmill motors froze!!Is this true?
What does “mom and pop folks” “having a hard time” have to do with clean energy ? And you do realize that no “juice” has been produced so far, right ?
Vineyard Wind One is 50 % owned by Avangrid renewables, based out of Portland Oregon, U.S.A.
Partners – Vineyard Windhttps://www.vineyardwind.com › partners
It is not true that Block Island lost their cable and windmill motors because they froze.
NOT TRUE, since you ask.
And about the Chinese and wind farms;
China is the world’s largest producer of wind turbines.
In 2021 China produced 655,600 GIGA watt hours (gwh) of electricity for consumption—- IN CHINA.
in 2021 the United States produced 379,267 gwhs of electricity:
China in fact produces 72% more electricity with wind farms than the United States.
Actually most new technologies start inefficiently. But as demand increases they invent better technologies. I suspect an all chip Nano battery is on the horizon. You will soon pull up to a charging station and in 30 seconds u will drive away with another charged Nano battery.
As an alternative to putting solar on your roof, you can sign up for community solar. I did this in Oak Bluffs, via the company Arcadia. They partner with larger community solar projects in the area and supply electricity to Eversource on my behalf, and handle the billing etc. They charge me the Eversource rate, minus 10%. The solar project I’m subscribed to is in Wareham. I wave at it whenever I pass by. Someday I’ll get rooftop PV, but community solar was easy and cost me nothing up front, and saves me a bit every month.
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