Crafting a Photovoltaic Action Plan in the Bay State

For those of us who have been involved in renewable energy for many years, it is truly exciting to see the great strides that the solar photovoltaic industry is taking in powering up a bright future. With nearly $5 billion in annual sales and the prospect of a $15-20 billion industry in the not too distant future, hundreds of MWs are not only being installed on a yearly basis but people around the globe are embracing this technology as a pace-setter for renewable energy generally.

RE Insider – May 24, 2004 For those of us who have been involved in renewable energy for many years, it is truly exciting to see the great strides that the solar photovoltaic industry is taking in powering up a bright future. With nearly $5 billion in annual sales and the prospect of a $15-20 billion industry in the not too distant future, hundreds of MWs are not only being installed on a yearly basis but people around the globe are embracing this technology as a pace-setter for renewable energy generally. While the PV industry has registered dramatic growth in recent years, its emergence has in large part been fueled by supportive policies in countries such as Germany and Japan, and U.S. states like California. In most cases, the policies have been strengthened by substantial buy down programs whose cost often reaches hundreds of millions of dollars. This has resulted in the fact that PV growth has generally been location-specific, with the greatest success stories taking place in a limited number of countries and states whose legislators have embraced the necessary policy and funding support. We now have a series of additional countries and states which are stepping up to do what they can in the PV area as well. In Massachusetts, the Renewable Energy Trust, administered by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), was created by the state’s legislators in 1997 as part of the overall electricity deregulation legislation which also enacted a renewable portfolio standard. In recent years the Trust, like a good number of states in the U.S., has focused on how it can maximize significant PV installation growth in the most cost effective manner. At the same time, MTC is desirous of helping grow its substantial PV manufacturing cluster, with internationally known companies such as Evergreen Solar, RWE Schott Solar and Spire. These photovoltaic goals and others have led to the initial steps in crafting an emerging Massachusetts PV action plan. The Trust’s action plan, while certainly not on a par with states like California, has registered encouraging progress in a number of areas. Starting with MTC’s green buildings program, an aggressive plan to bring high performance building design and renewable energy to as much new construction as possible, the Trust has provided approximately $10 million to support PV installations in 37 different projects, including 16 Massachusetts schools. Through its Solar-to-Market Initiative, another $4.2 million has been invested in PV installations all across the state. In 2001, there were 164 solar installations in Massachusetts. Today, that number has expanded to more than 350 systems with a fast growing pipeline of projects scheduled this spring and summer. With creative financing from the Trust and substantial local investment, the city of Brockton is planning to build New England’s largest solar array on a former Brownfield site. The array will add 500 kilowatts of photovoltaic electricity to the local electricity grid and be used to educate students about the benefits of renewable energy including reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. A website will track the project’s electrical output on sunny as well as cloudy days and become the basis for science class experiments and monitoring in many Massachusetts schools. The project will be part of the Trust’s education and public awareness outreach efforts, so as to communicate the benefits of solar energy to the state’s residents and students. As part of its PV action plan, MTC is also working directly with the state’s photovoltaic manufacturing companies to help them prosper and grow. Already, $4 million in investments have been made in companies such as Konarka and Evergreen Solar, and the Trust’s Massachusetts Green Energy Fund (MGEF) and its SEED technology loan program will soon be available for additional investments. MGEF has been initially capitalized by MTC with $15 million to promote investment in the state’s clean energy sector, and the $8 million SEED program will invest in promising technologies with loans being repaid from the developed products’ future stream of revenues. To further assist the Bay State’s PV cluster, the Trust is developing a new Massachusetts PV Export Initiative to help local companies increase sales abroad and open new markets for solar panels. The program will be a public/private/non-profit partnership in which the Trust will co-fund the program and work with the state’s well respected photovoltaic companies and the Solar Energy Business Association of New England (SEBANE) to implement a cutting edge export program. The program will seek to open new markets and build competitive advantages for these companies, thereby helping to strengthen the state’s position in the global marketplace. The Export Initiative will work closely with federal agencies such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export-Import Bank and the Trade and Development Agency whose missions include U.S. renewable energy export promotion. The PV action plan has also focused on increasing the capabilities of the state’s base of qualified installers. It is now easier to find qualified installers in Massachusetts thanks to a partnership with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The union has assumed a leadership role on green electricity and is creating new opportunities for the state’s workers by developing training programs that are increasing the number of electricians who can install solar arrays. The Trust is now focusing on its next generation of programs which will contribute to the PV action plan. MTC recently announced a new Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Initiative. This three year, $6 million effort provides opportunities for the Commonwealth’s employers to participate in renewable energy projects, including PV installations. The program offers generous feasibility study and installation awards to qualifying companies and institutions. Furthermore, a $2 million community match program is nearing completion as a means for encouraging participation in approved green electricity programs. The program will provide dollar for dollar matches to communities which can then use the matching funding to purchase renewables such as photovoltaic installations. A third new program, a $1.5 million residential initiative, is under development which should lead to further PV systems. In order to best determine the future components of the Trust’s PV action plan, MTC is in the process of forming a PV Collaborative. The Collaborative will seek to work with the PV industry, organizations like SEBANE and SEIA, environmental constituents, the electric utilities, and other stakeholders to formulate additional PV programs for the residential and public sectors. The emphasis will be on how the Trust can formulate the most cost effective programs to assist in increasing PV penetration in Massachusetts as well as assist the growth and success of the state’s PV companies and their employees. MTC is encouraged by the progress which has been achieved to date in Massachusetts, but the PV action plan must continue to evolve and grow if it is to achieve far greater levels of penetration. Increasing emphasis will be put into programs which demonstrate the biggest “bang for the buck,” finding ways to provide incentives which are effective but which require the least amount of subsidy. Like many state clean energy funds, the Trust is dedicated to innovation and creativity in bringing about demonstrated results, thereby helping to fuel the continue growth of the overall photovoltaic market in the state and elsewhere. About the author… Robert Pratt is the director of the state’s Renewable Energy Trust, which is administered by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. For more information, please visit the agency’s website at the link below.

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