Mass. expands use of solar power under Patrick

By Glen Johnson
Associated Press / December 26, 2010

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BOSTON—Massachusetts had 3.5 megawatts worth of solar systems installed when Gov. Deval Patrick stood in the sunshine outside the Statehouse for his inaugural ceremony in 2007.

Today, he's poised to begin his second term and the Bay State has 33.3 megawatts installed.

It also has the same amount under contract for construction soon.

The credit goes to state and federal solar power incentive programs. But departing Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles says the concerted effort Massachusetts has made is paying off.

He says the state has been making its push "in a thoughtful and cost-efficient way."

Patrick has set a goal of adding 250 megawatts of solar energy -- enough to power at least 37,500 homes -- by 2017.

He says there are at least two benefits: increasing the state's use of clean, renewable energy and promoting businesses that design, build and install solar systems.

The state started in 2007 with its Commonwealth Solar program, which offered rebates to homeowners and small businesses that installed solar panels. The program met its goal after 21 months, with its initial $68 million pool fully committed by October 2009.

In January, the administration unveiled the Commonwealth Solar II program. It extended the rebate program for residential and commercial solar installations of 5 kilowatts or less -- about the largest most people could place on a single-family home.

Both programs have received $1 million each quarter from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, funded since 2003 by a charge on monthly electric bills.

The state also has launched the Commonwealth Solar Stimulus. It used $8 million in federal stimulus funds to help companies install large solar arrays intended to generate more than 5 kilowatts each.

In addition, the state has launched a third program for solar market credits. Authorized by the 2008 Green Communities Act, it provides a predictable market for credits that homeowners can generate through their solar systems. The credits are sold to businesses or other buyers seeking to offset carbon-based power systems.

Homeowners receive at least $300 and up to $600.

Combined, the efforts have made Massachusetts the No. 3 solar market in the country, behind California and New Jersey.

"Ours is on a very nice, steady ramp upwards," Bowles said.