After hearing input from all sides with a stake in the game, the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, & Energy released legislation to the full House of Representatives concerning solar energy. The solar bill debated today was a mixed bag. There was much demand to raise or eliminate the cap on net metering, well beyond the 2% figure allowed for in the bill. The Senate version of the bill raised it by 5% so there is a possibility that the Conference Committee will resolve this difference and come up with a compromise increase. I would have preferred an elimination of the cap but a 3-4% increase will at least allow the continued expansion of our solar energy program and industry, one of the primary goals of this legislation.
There were a number of important amendments that I strongly supported to address net metering, community solar projects, to curb payments to investor-owned utilities, and to exempt low-income customers from the minimum monthly contributions for solar users. Unfortunately, most of these amendments were voted down.
I weighed the consequences of my vote very carefully. Voting against the bill would have meant that there would be no Conference Committee, no possibility of improvements to the bill, and-most importantly-no progress or action on solar energy in 2015. Passing legislation now is a crucial first step, and a priority for anyone concerned with energy policy and green energy in particular. Failure to do so by the end of the year would mean a loss of substantial federal funding for solar energy in Massachusetts. That, in my mind, was worse than voting no on principle. While I remain deeply troubled by some elements of the bill, it is better than no bill at all. The good news is that the House will be taking up more meaningful reform on solar energy early in 2016.
I will closely follow the proceeding of the Conference Committee and trust that the bill that emerges from that process will undoubtedly be better than the one put before today.