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Massachusetts Resets Its Solar Energy Bar, Four Years Early

Solar installations in Massachusetts topped 135 MW in 2012, and through April of this year another 30 MW was installed. This week, on May 1, the state achieved a milestone: 250 MW of installed solar capacity, fulfilling a goal set by Governor Deval Patrick's administration — a goal that was expected to be achieved four years from now.

So now Massachusetts has set a new target for solar energy growth: 1.6 GW of cumulative installed solar capacity by 2020. (Massachusetts also has a goal for wind energy: 2 GW of installed capacity by 2020, of which 103 MW has been achieved.)

Massachusetts now ranks seventh among U.S. states in terms of installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "Based on the capabilities of the growing Massachusetts solar industry and the commonwealth's solar potential, the new 1.6-GW solar goal is great news, and the solar energy industry welcomes this opportunity to rise to the occasion and meet this new goal," stated Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior VP of state affairs at SEIA.

This 250-MW milestone also puts Massachusetts that much closer to the 400-MW solar carve-out in its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which it will likely max out in 2014, which is also well ahead of a 2017 target. (SEIA has proposed that the state hike its solar carve-out to be on par with other solar-friendly states in the Northeast, such as New Jersey at 4 GW and Maryland at 1.3 GW.) Two months ago the state's Department of Energy Resources (DOER) began fast-tracking changes to the solar carve-out, and on March 22 the DOER presented a list of policy options to stakeholders and has been processing their feedback, according to Dwayne Breger, DOER's director of renewable energy development. A more advanced set of policy designs will be re-presented before mid-May to stakeholders, with more analysis and setting program parameters that will probably "take us well into the summertime," he said. Formal rule-making to put a draft regulation in place will likely extend into the fall timeframe, he said.

The DOER is working prudently, but expeditiously, because "we know the time is upon us, because of the business cycles of project developers for large-scale systems," Breger said. The aim is to make this next solar carve-out robust enough and with enough headroom (duration and megawatts) to be the last one the market needs before costs come down to parity. "We want a cap in this next program that's sufficient, as best as we can judge, to provide enough time and development to reach that endpoint."

Lead image: Boy doing chin-ups via Shutterstock

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