If you go to its website, the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, which administers the state’s solar rebate program (the Commonwealth Solar Rebate Program) simply says it has gotten enough applications to meet the state’s current goal; 27 megawatts of installed photovoltaic (PV) power by 2012.
The program, launched in January 2008, is an expression of Governor Deval Patrick’s ultimate goal; 250 megawatts of solar power by 2017. But with slightly more than seven years, and 223 megawatts still to go, it seems odd and unfortunate that the program has run out of money, leaving many unapproved applicants in the lurch and on the hook for solar systems they have installed (or for which they have pending installation contracts).
This effectively ends the state’s $68-million program for now, presumably until new funding can be arranged through the legislature. The program was originally funded through a $4-per-month fee on Massachusetts customer’s utility bills, as well as penalties paid by utility companies operating at a deficit in terms of renewable energy generation.
That the money is all gone may be reassuring news for solar manufacturing firms and solar panel installers, proving yet again that solar energy, rather than being an energy fad destined to fail, is actually moving into the mainstream of energy production nationwide. It is very negative news for those who want to participate in solar energy.
The funding failure was apparently propelled by an Oct. 6 notice saying that the state was planning to reduce rebates, which spurred an influx of so many applications in a single week that the $26 million remaining in the fund was completely depleted, according to Massachusetts energy czar Philip Giudici.
Giudici called it a “surprise”, happening as it did at a time when the state’s consumers were demanding solar energy. For homeowners and small businesses looking to get some funding toward solar energy systems – whose prices are still too high for the average American – the announcement was more like a heartbreak.
At the time the fund failed, the state’s energy executives were looking to switch incentives to renewable energy credits, or RECs. Now, with the solar energy fund $12 million over budget, and 142 new solar businesses in the state this year looking to capitalize on the state’s solar energy incentive through new customers, the collapse of the incentive spells very bleak news for many.
Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust director Carter Wall has said that some of the state’s ARRA funding may be used to bolster the solar panel incentives, in order to honor as many applicants as possible, and promised that the next round of funding approved by the legislature will more closely match needs. Since the legislature is out from Nov. 23 through the first of next year, the odds of getting anything supplemental passed in the interim is astronomical.
Homeowners and small businessmen aren’t the only ones complaining. Last week, Yarmouth Public Works Director George Allaire dispatched an angry letter to Guidici, saying that power purchase agreements – critical to keeping the town’s waste treatment facility viable – would now have to be amended or cancelled unless someone could tell the purchasers what kind of incentives to plan on in budgeting systems, costs and financial payback.