In this podcast, Brian Sadler looks at the history of solar incentives in Massachusetts. He explains that homeowners in MA can start saving immediately when they invest in solar.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Brian Sadler, Vice President at Solaris Renewables Solar company in Massachusetts, providing premium solar and storage technologies with exceptional customer service and designing, installing, and servicing solar systems in Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire, and Maine. Today, we’re talking about the current landscape of solar in Massachusetts. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Sadler: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me in.
Massachusetts Is Very Supportive of Solar
John: Sure. Yeah. So Brian, can you provide a little bit of an overview of the current state of solar power in Massachusetts and how it’s evolved in recent years?
Brian: Yeah. I think one thing that we always joke about in our industry is, one thing is constant, it’s change. So, here in Mass, we’re fortunate that the state is really supportive of renewables because we really don’t have or make any fossil fuels here. All the energy is sourced into the state or into the region really. So solar and other renewables are really, the only way that the state can have any energy, independence and resiliency. So there has been constant, constant change, but fortunately, there’s always great incentives for here in Massachusetts.
So we do have obviously, the federal tax credit, but then in the state, we’ve always had some type of income program based on the performance of solar, which is, it’s fairly unique in the country as well. We also have a really strong net metering program, which is how folks that take advantage of solar are able to save on their energy bills as well. So we have seen some changes over the years in that, but generally speaking, it’s all positive. We still have great programs here in Massachusetts.
Solar Incentives in MA Through the Years
John: Right. So talk a little bit about those incentives that are available to homeowners or business owners who want to adopt solar power and how those incentives have influenced the adoption of solar among residences and businesses and institutions.
Brian: Yeah. I think they’re certainly compelling. So I think a long time ago, it started out as a strong rebate program that morphed into what was called SREC, Solar Renewable Energy Credits, which was, I think, one of the first in the country. But it was a program that was lucrative in terms of performance of solar.
So you basically got compensated for every kilowatt-hour of production that the customer made, the solar stakeholder. And that was both residentially and commercially as well, as well as utility scale. I could take advantage of that. But basically, it was every thousand kilowatt-hours, there was certificate that was earned and it was traded on a market, and essentially, utilities had to buy a certain amount of them to meet their state regulations and then as well as corporations, and then other entities bought those certificates as well.
So that program lasted from 2010 to 2018 when it was sunsetted. And then the state revamped their entire solar program where it started to look at not just the regulations and the incentives being separate, but brought it all together into what was called SMRT, which was Solar, Massachusetts Renewable Target.
And that had new regulations, new pieces of the tariff for the utilities that were written in. But then also, a piece of that was the actual incentive, which we generalized as SMRT. And in some ways it seemed beneficial in that it was really clear. It wasn’t market based. You knew what you were getting. There was a certain… Depending on what block you got into. So there were eight blocks on a declining value, and whichever block you got into had a value associated with that, and that’s how much you got per kilowatt-hour.
So every month it showed up on your bill, you got paid either by check or by a direct deposit from the utility. It was super transparent, clear, and it was really easy to model for customers. Whereas SRAC was a little bit more market based and although more lucrative, it was a little more confusing, right? Because we had to set up folks with aggregators and things like this that were other entities that actually paid customers for that income.
And then SMRT, I think the intentions were good, but there was a little bit of short-sideness and it didn’t last that long and really became a negative value in some of the utilities. It was utility specific. And so, we transitioned customers to what was an older program called REC that’s really been around since the eighties. There are other renewable products that can qualify for the RECs, which are renewable energy credits, and they work same as the SREC program, where every thousand kilowatt-hours, you earn a certificate, it’s traded on market and the customer’s compensated. And there’s a lot of guardrails put on these programs so that it’s not… The customer’s going to get that value on a certain timeframe. And there’s a lot of protections and regulations set by the state.
So again, REC is of a lower value, but the RECs were something you need to sign over to the utility in order to get SMRT. And once it became clear that RECs were going to be of a higher value, we quickly realized we should start transitioning customers directly to that program as opposed to the SMRT program. So really, a couple different spots that in 2020, we started moving customers to REC, and then one of the utilities was closer to the beginning of this year, 2023, where we were moving customers to RECs. There was also a component of SMRT that had a storage adder for residential customers where if you had storage, it would boost that per kilowatt-hour value. Commercially, there were other adders, depending on what type of, if it was rooftop, if it was canopy or trackers, things like this.
There were different adders associated. There’s also a low income adder, so I think the intentions were there, but it unfortunately fell a little short as a long-term program. But fortunately, like we said, we still have the REC program to fall back on, which means that the customers’ not only getting tax credits from the federal government, which fortunately thanks to the federal legislation last summer, the IRA, we brought that back to 30%.
There’s a state tax credit, which is technically 15%, but it’s capped at a thousand dollars. We hope someday that might get lifted back to 15%, depending on, as incentives change, they typically go down. But if the income incentive goes down, we’re hopeful that the state tax credit can go back up. And then there’s some other incentives that are utility based, based on storage and things of that nature. There’s an EV charging. So there’s other peripheral incentives too. But I think overall, what’s exciting is that Massachusetts in particular, has a very strong support and landscape for solar.
How Solaris Renewables Helps Customers Utilize Tax Credits and Incentives
John: Right. It sounds like it’s a lot to manage and track and try to figure out, do you get really involved with your customers and help them to understand what sort of incentives they can take advantage of and help them to walk through that process?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s key to us being to a local installer is being in the weeds of what the latest and greatest is, and making sure that we’re guiding our customers with the best information throughout the educational process that we go through, and that we’re helping them maximize their investment. So there’s a variety of ways to go about going solar, but at the end of the day, a lot of our customers own the system because it is so favorable here in Massachusetts due to those incentives.
So we know our team has to really be trained well, and it is constantly moving to understand what the block is, the current incentive, and the nature of those. And then we have to make sure that we’re able to model them effectively to get the customer the right information. So it can be a heavy lift, yeah, but that’s what we’re here for.
In MA, the Savings From Solar Start Right Away
John: Sure. Do you see any interesting trends and innovations happening in the solar industry in Massachusetts?
Brian: Specific to Massachusetts, solar remains strong, right? Because a lot of folks, I would say nationally, figure like, “Oh, solar in Massachusetts, you get snow up there.” But it’s very favorable for production here in Massachusetts. But we also have really strong incentives that provide compensation to the customer and make them save quickly.
So some of the other states, solar’s thought of, try to maybe spend a little more or break about even now and then in five years from now, you’re saving. Where here in Massachusetts, we’ve been fortunate and somewhat spoiled to show customers how they can be saving, sometimes day one, month one. That’s been exciting. But there are through some legislation policy here in the state as well as some of the utilities, looking at ways to have some control over some of these systems.
So there is some opportunities to have your inverter, your battery, your EV charger integrated into a demand response program where the utility has some control over the power that it’s pulling from the grid, and also, in some cases, putting it back on the grid. So I think that the state’s been pretty innovative in creating those programs because the utilities at the end of the day, don’t want to lose great customers. And so customers want to save money. We have some of the highest utility rates in the country, so there’s a lot of unique ways that the customers can leverage their equipment in other ways as well. And it satisfies the need of the utility to deliver power to us on a constant basis.
What Are Community Solar Initiatives?
John: Okay. And now community solar projects have gained popularity as a means of expanding solar access to a broader audience. Can you discuss the role of community solar initiatives and what those are and how they work in Massachusetts?
Brian: Sure. Yeah. Community solar is a great opportunity to open up the support of renewables in the state and allows folks that maybe can’t have rooftop or ground mounted solar at their home or business to be able to realize some savings. It’s more moderate than you would by having the system on your site, which is to be expected. But a lot of folks are willing to pay a little bit extra on their utility bill to support renewables or green initiatives. And community solar is a direct way to do that.
So the customer can essentially sign up to be a part of a community solar farm, and then they are realizing it’s usually about 10% off their bill savings. So I think it’s win-win across the board. So basically they’re looking for off-takers. So there’s large community solar farms that are going to be directly connected to the utility, providing power to the utility, really the local community.
And then folks in that local community can… Residentially, businesses. And it allows folks that are, say in a two-family or multifamily home, a business that doesn’t that… Or renters and anyone that has a utility bill can take advantage of community solar. And I think that’s what makes it really effective and exciting.
Current Challenges and Opportunities for Solar in MA
John: Right. As solar energy continues to grow. What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry here in Massachusetts?
Brian: Well, I think, again, the policy regulation. So that’s some of the challenges that we face. And one thing that I think has been really inspiring about our industry is the innovation and the ability to adjust on the fly. We start with the pandemic where this was a really in-home experience that quickly, overnight went virtual and the industry really picked up on tools and it really seamlessly transitioned, which was really impressive.
Right now what we’re facing are some, like fire code is a big piece. So it’s the new fire code without going away into the weeds, but it’s affecting how we design solar and how we’re able to install it. And it’s very much a relevant and present right now. So thanks for asking me, and I could go on and on about it, but basically, it certainly is a challenge because homeowners want to be receiving as much offset or meet their goals.
And sometimes this is limiting to that. And so again, us being a local company and being in the weeds here with the regulations, we’re able to navigate that. And a lot of times, we have to react quickly and on the fly to be able to redesign a system and meet the code and work closely with a lot of the inspectors and local towns to be able to do that as well.
Go to SolarisRenewables.com to Get Solar in MA
John: All right. Well that’s really great information, Brian. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Brian: Thanks, John, I appreciate it.
John: And for more information, you can visit the website @solarisrenewables.com or call 781-270-6555.