As a fuel source to generate electricity, coal may be on its way out. More than 20 GW of utility-scale power was scheduled to be added to the power grid in 2015, after it “retired” more than 12,000 MW of annual coal-fired capacity. A large factor in the closures of those coal plants is the implementation of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). MATS requires stricter emissions standards in existing plants, and the cost to retrofit older plants was determined to be cost-prohibitive.
For Massachusetts, that leaves natural gas or alternative fuels for electricity generation, and the price of natural gas is going up. By December 2015, natural gas prices are expected to climb to $3.30 per million Btu, up from $2.61 per MMBtu in April. Prices might continue to climb after that, as demand for electricity increases through the cold months, and coal’s availability as a fuel option diminishes. Adding to the challenge of heating New England in winter is the fact that there are only two pipelines that now carry natural gas into the region, and both are currently operating at full capacity. There are presently at least two proposals to construct additional natural gas lines, but both are facing environmental opposition and a steep climb to federal approval. In either event, it will be at least three years before any natural gas infrastructure improvements could come online, and that is sure to leave many New Englanders out in the cold through many months of the year.
If you’re a homeowner in Massachusetts and you’re looking for a cleaner, more reliable alternative to heating your home or business, the state’s investments in solar energy should be of interest to you.
Massachusetts leads the way
Massachusetts has been a leader in requiring that a percentage of state energy usage be powered by alternatives to fossil fuels. Back in 2011, Gov. Deval Patrick set a goal to achieve 250 MW of solar-generated power by the year 2017. That goal was met four years early, in 2013, and a new goal was set to reach 1,600 MW by 2020. That amount of power would provide 3 to 4 percent of the state’s total electricity supply. The march to that goal is well under way.
The Solar Carve-Out Program:
The Green Communities Act was passed in 2008, which required the state to develop a certain percentage of renewable resources to use as alternatives to fossil fuels. In 2010, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) “carved out” a section of that percentage to be devoted solely to solar photovoltaic facilities. The goal was for residential, commercial, public and non-profit entities to develop as much as 400 MW of solar power across the commonwealth.
Commonwealth Solar II:
Now closed, this project provided rebates for homeowners and business who installed solar power systems. Over the term of the project (which closed in January 2015), more than 13,000 solar electric systems were installed in homes, public buildings and small businesses across the commonwealth. More than $46 million in rebates was issued in support of more than $407 million invested in solar installations. The project grew the number of residential solar electric systems to more than 10,500, which produce 715 MW of capacity, which, in turn, can power more than 100,000 Massachusetts homes.
During the life of the project, the cost of purchasing and installing small-scale solar power systems dropped nearly 30 percent in the state while employment spurred by the emerging industry grew to more than 12,000 workers. Its success almost certainly ensures that more incentives for solar investment are on the way.
Now in its fourth year, Solarize Mass is working with local communities to trigger adoption of small-scale solar power installations through a competitive tiered pricing structure. Since its inception, more than 2,400 residents in towns across the state have committed to installing solar electricity systems, and thousands more have heard the message. The program works by encouraging whole communities to get involved, thus reducing the cost for everyone. The more program participants that sign on, the more money is saved on each installation.
In pursuing this model, the plan is to educate whole communities about the values of reducing carbon emissions and developing reliable energy sources that don’t tax the environment. To date, citizens in more than 46 communities have signed contracts to install more than 16 megawatts of solar electricity.
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center:
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) provides rebates and other incentives for replacing carbon-based fuels with cleaner alternatives. Created in 2008, this agency is dedicated to supporting the success of clean energy technologies in every sector of the state’s economy. Among other projects MassCEC is assisting is Mass Solar Connect. This non-profit agency of 20,000 members is focusing its efforts on increasing solar electricity adoption among non-profit organizations.
Massachusetts has taken a strong lead in favor of solar power for its future energy needs. RGS Energy has been powering the Bay State with solar energy and reducing its dependence on fossil fuels since 1980.
To learn how solar energy can work for your home, visit www.rgsenergy.com for information and a free quote.