A recent story in the Boston Globe warned that Massachusetts utility customers could be faced with bigger electricity bills in the next 20 years. That’s because of Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to expand solar there.
The governor, who seems to be motivated by wanting his state to produce cleaner power and new jobs, aims to quadruple the amount of solar in Massachusetts. The state already came in ahead of its previous goal of 400 MW, which it wasn’t scheduled to arrive at for a few years. But officials there want to do more and are proposing a goal of 1,600 MW by 2020.
The utilities in the state are claiming they don’t have a problem with the goal but would prefer to buy the power from a few large producers. However, the governor wants to see solar produced by a mix of small and large installations. The utilities would have to buy power from a variety of producers. And that means they wouldn't get the same economies of scale, and increased costs would be passed along to consumers.
While some in the solar industry claim competition will keep prices down, state officials acknowledge there would be a price increase. However, that’s expected to be just $1 - $1.50 more a month for the average residential customer.
The real issue for the utilities may be not be concern for their customers. (Are you surprised?) Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president for state affairs at the Solar Energy Industry Association, believes utilities want to maintain control over who produces electricity -- including the electricity produced from solar.
To deal with the many pressing issues that solar can help with -- the economy, jobs, public health, energy independence, national security, and yes, even the environment -- it’s going to take all kinds of solar. That includes utility-scale.
But distributed solar is an important part of the mix. It confers many advantages for communities and individuals -- and even for the utilities. It avoids building new transmission lines and other infrastructure. It keeps money and jobs local, and it raises awareness of solar in communities. It brings pride of ownership and lets people and businesses control how they get their power.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this proposal in Massachusetts. Distributed solar can help us not only get to where we need to be -- but also do it in the right way.