Department of Public Utilities Approves First Utility Solar Ownership Proposal under Green Communities Act
Western Massachusetts Electric Company will deploy and operate 6 MW of solar power, contributing to Governor Patrick's solar power goal of 250 MW by 2017
Designed to promote the development of renewable energy and stimulate the Commonwealth's clean energy economy, the Green Communities Act gave utility companies the ability to own and operate solar electric installations up 50 MW. Just as utilities bill customers for the cost of fossil-fuel generated electricity, the cost of utility-owned solar power will be recouped through ratepayer revenues. The WMECO order approved today includes a settlement between the company and the Attorney General ensuring that costs of the utility's solar program will include stricter cost controls and be spread over more years than the company originally proposed.
"Today's action is consistent with Governor Patrick's pursuit of a robust solar energy industry in Massachusetts," DPU Chairman Paul Hibbard said. "It moves the Commonwealth closer to the Governor's goal of 250 megawatts of solar power by 2017, while protecting ratepayers by spreading out the cost of financing WMECO's solar ownership program."
WMECO's solar installations are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2012, at which time they will contribute to the local supply of renewable power, helping the Commonwealth meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Established as part of the utility restructuring act in 1997, the RPS is designed to diversify the state's electricity supply portfolio and create market demand to spur the development of renewable power. It requires retail electricity suppliers to purchase a certain amount of RPS-eligible energy (through Renewable Energy Certificates) as a percentage of the power they sell to consumers. The Green Communities Act upped the rate of increase in the RPS from 0.5 percent per year to 1 percent annually, with no cap. As a result, utilities and other electricity suppliers are required to obtain renewable power equal to 4 percent of sales this year, rising to 15 percent in 2020 and upward from there.
In addition to the WMECO solar proposal approved today, DPU has before it solar ownership pilot programs submitted by National Grid and Unitil.
The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) ensures that Massachusetts utility ratepayers receive the most reliable service at the lowest possible cost. The DPU protects the rights of residential utility customers; oversees the siting of power-generating facilities; controls utility company prices and profits while monitoring service quality; and regulates the safety of natural gas pipelines and rail and bus transportation.