October 12: Ben Hellerstein, “Massachusetts Goes Solar”

Ben_Hellerstein_photoBen Hellerstein is Field Director at .

Long seen as a niche power source, solar energy has quickly become a real alternative to dirty forms of energy like coal and gas. Massachusetts is helping to lead the way, with a more than 150-fold increase in solar energy capacity since 2008. This talk will explore how grassroots activism has helped make Massachusetts a solar leader, and what citizens can do to take solar to the next level in our state.

Currently, 90% of the energy to generate the electricity we use comes from dangerous fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas. This is an unsustainable course which must be corrected by a switch to renewables — hydro, wind, and solar. This is the only course that avoids disastrous climate change and the  contamination of our air and water.

Given our high latitude and long winters, it may be surprising to learn that Massachusetts is one of the leaders in implementing solar energy. A report by Environment Massachusetts released just this past August ranks the state 6th in the nation in total solar capacity, and 8th in solar installed per capita.

In 2013, Massachusetts doubled its solar capacity, bringing the total to around 440 megawatts. The Patrick administration achieved its goal of 250 megawatts a full four years ahead of schedule, and has set a new, very aggressive goal of 1600 megawatts by 2020.

What state policies have been put in place to drive the solar energy boom? All retail electricity providers are required to either generate solar power via photovoltaic installations, or to purchase credits from other providers with greater solar generating capacity. This is market-based system, designed to promote usage of solar energy while controlling costs.

At the consumer level, a state program called Commonwealth Solar II provides rebates for homeowners and businesses in Massachusetts who install photovoltaics. Rebates are awarded after certified installation of solar generating equipment, and are proportional to the energy output of the project.

Environment Massachusetts has set a goal of 50,000 new solar roofs in the state during the next decade. and beyond that, a goal of 150,000 roofs by 2030.