By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Municipal officials across Massachusetts want Gov. Charlie Baker to keep solar energy a priority when he takes office next month. Last week, the environmental advocacy group Environment Massachusetts released a letter signed by 340 officials from 135 cities and towns asking Baker to support solar energy, a sector they say improved dramatically under outgoing-Gov. Deval Patrick.
The letter, dated Dec. 9, was signed by officials from 18 of the 20 largest cities in the state, including New Bedford and Fall River.
Baker hasn’t yet responded to the letter, nor did he respond to an ecoRI News inquiry, but Environment Massachusetts is upbeat. “We delivered the letter to Baker's transition team and had a positive conversation about the benefits that solar has brought to Massachusetts,” said Ben Hellerstein, campaign organizer for Environment Massachusetts.
On the energy front, Baker has so far selected Rep. Matthew Beaton, R-Shrewsbury, as the secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the top environmental post in the state. Beaton will oversee six state agencies, including the Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection. He currently owns a green-design and energy-efficiency consulting business for home construction.
The trade journal Solar Industry recently reported on the high praise Patrick has received for increasing the state’s solar capacity from 3.7 megawatts in 2007 to 699 megawatts today, enough to power 100,000 homes. Massachusetts now generates the fifth-most solar power in the country.
The Green Communities Act and the Global Warming Solutions Act, both passed in 2008, are credited for creating the programs and incentives that propelled the state's solar industry. In fact, according to Environment Massachusetts, the state's solar-energy capacity has grown 127 percent in the past three years. The sector employees about 12,000 workers, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Southeastern Massachusetts has experienced the most significant growth — 22 percent — since 2010.
Environment Massachusetts wants the new governor to embrace the goal of generating 20 percent of state power from solar energy by 2025. Currently, less than 2 percent of the state’s power comes from solar. The organization estimates the state has some 700,000 rooftops suited for solar panels. Combined with landfills and other sites, solar power has the potential to double the state’s electricity demand, according to the group.
The federal National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) says falling prices will help solar continue its popularity. Photovoltaic (PV) system prices dropped 12 percent to 19 percent nationally in 2013 and are expected to fall as much as 12 percent this year. NREL projects that if pricing trends continue, PV prices may soon reach grid parity, or even pricing, without federal or state subsidies.
In Massachusetts, the price for the average solar array has dropped from $34,400 in 2010 to $23,800 today. The prices are before any rebates or other incentives are included.