April 3, 2014

JOSH CUTLER: Solar Energy Benefits Ripple Home in Massachussetts

Creating a major new law can be compared to tossing a stone in the water. There is an immediate splash, but often the subtle ripples have a more lasting effect. Such is the case here in Massachusetts in our march toward renewable energy. Nearly six years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick advocated and signed into law a landmark clean energy bill, known as the Green Communities Act. The purpose of the law was to boost production in renewable energy, lessen dependence on fossil fuels and promote energy efficiency.

The Act created the Green Communities program to encourage cities and towns to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, set new benchmarks for reducing municipal energy consumption and streamline permitting for renewable energy development.

Notably, the law also expanded the concept of “net-metering,” a way of boosting renewable energy production by allowing our electricity grid to essentially become a two-way street. When energy generation at an individual location outpaces consumption, the excess energy flows backward into the grid. The generator of the electricity, whether a homeowner, school, town or business, gets energy credits that can be used to offset their electricity costs.

Combined with a related solar credit program that creates market-based incentives to invest in solar, these innovations have spurred a renewable energy revolution. Massachusetts has rocketed up to the top five in the nation in solar installations, which in turn has created 8,400 new solar industry linked jobs.

Overall, the clean-energy sector continues to grow rapidly and, in fact, here in southeastern Massachusetts, we’ve seen the highest growth rate in the state. There are now more than 17,000 clean energy jobs just in our region, an increase of 14 percent in one year, according to the 2013 Clean Energy Industry Report.

Without the state’s commitment to green energy, my hometown of Duxbury would not have been able to break ground this past month on a new kind of power plant – one that has no emissions, no smoke stacks, no moving parts and no spent fuel rods or radioactive waste. There’s no smell, and you can’t even hear it. This is the power plant of the future, relying on our most abundant energy source – the sun.

Duxbury is joining an increasing number of cities and towns across the commonwealth, West Bridgewater and Marshfield, in turning toward renewable energy as a viable and cost-effective alternative. By this summer the town’s capped landfill will be transformed from a vacant and nearly unusable plot of land into an energy-producing solar farm, generating about 600,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy a year.

This is another small step on the road to energy independence and it would not have been possible without the Green Communities Act and our state’s commitment to renewable energy.  before our eyes as the impact of these policies continues to ripple. Consider the numbers: In 1990, solar panels cost about $10 a watt. In 2008, the year the Green Communities Act went into effect, they cost $4. Today, they are about 85 cents a watt.

In the not-too-distant future we will reach what is called grid parity, when the cost of solar electricity equals the cost of fossil fuel production, regardless of any subsidy. That will cause a further explosion in growth and with it even more new green jobs and private investment.

Six years ago, that day may have seemed like a far-away dream, but today we are knocking on the door and Massachusetts is helping to lead the way.

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