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March 12, 2014

Solar energy backers urge lawmakers to raise cap

BOSTON — Solar energy proponents urged a legislative panel yesterday to remove a barrier to renewable energy production by lifting the state’s cap on the amount of energy that can be sold back to the grid by public and private customers with their own renewable energy generators.

Some cities like Haverhill, Winthrop and Palmer are interested in pursuing solar projects for municipal energy needs, but have bumped up against the cap, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Municipal leaders, solar advocates and lawmakers testified yesterday before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy in support of bills that would raise the so-called “net-metering cap,” which limits to 3 percent of peak load capacity the amount of power that a homeowner, business or municipality can produce on site and receive credits on their electric bills.

Rep. Frank Smizik and Sen. Anthony Petruccelli have filed legislation (H 3901/S 2019) to scrap the fixed net metering cap and replace it with a time cap that would allow all qualified projects to be approved until Dec. 31, 2016.

The Smizik-Petruccelli bill would also create a special commission to study the long-term viability of net metering in Massachusetts and report back to the Legislature before the end of next year.

Smizik said lifting the cap was critical to meeting Gov. Deval Patrick’s goal of installing 1,600 megawatts of solar power in Massachusetts by 2020, and would support an industry now linked to 8,400 full-time jobs while helping the state reach its target of 15 percent renewable energy by the end of the decade. Some municipalities wanting to pursue financially viable solar projects have been “stymied and stalled” by the net metering cap.

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