It was one of those all too rare summer days. The sky is clear, it’s comfortably warm, and the traffic is light. Just a great day to be driving the length of Massachusetts for the first time in a couple of years. Yet there is something different. Something that had been rare is now common. That bright mid-day sun is striking solar panels at seemingly every turn.
This should not have come as a surprise. This spring our committee visited IS0 New England’s headquarters. ISO NE manages electric production and transmission for all of New England. Here we learned that Massachusetts has added the equivalent of one Seabrook-sized nuclear power station in solar power in a just over a year. That is more capacity than is found in the current Northern Pass proposal. This is a stunning achievement.
How did this happen? There are many reasons, but three standout – solar power has become much more affordable; the state effectively communicated the value of solar: and the availability of net metering.
Net metering is the key to continued solar expansion. Net metering allows a home owner or business with installed solar to spin their meters backwards when they are producing more than they are consuming – essentially using the electric grid as a community battery. This is especially valuable for residential installed solar that is frequently at it’s highest output at times when a home may be at its lowest consumption. Without net metering, any unconsumed power must be stored in batteries. That is a very costly alternative. So while incentives make solar purchase more attractive, net metering makes it practical.
The benefits of net metering are not exclusive to the solar electricity producers. We all benefit. By increasing the dispersal of electricity production to many small point sources, transmission costs are reduced. This matters. Check the fine print on your electric bill. You may be surprised by the percent of your total going to transmission. Increasing the distribution of energy production is also a force for fending off the need for new power plants and their associated high costs. Increasing the supply of solar power also has two additional local economic benefits. Jobs are created in state for sales, installation, and maintenance and no money will leave the state to pay for imported fuels. Oh yes, then there are all the environmental benefits of solar versus fossil fuel.