The expansion of Massachusetts community solar could see trouble with the implementation of new land-use restrictions. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state initiated emergency changes to its primary solar support program. Though these revisions were intended to increase the size of the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target Program (SMART) and improve the state’s community solar, solar developers are finding that the new guidelines may be detrimental to their growth.
According to developers, parts of the new guidelines are too restrictive when it comes to the use of the state’s land. These restrictions will wind up reversing the good expected to come from the solar programs and lead to what Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables senior solar analyst Austin Perea calls an “existential risk.”
The restrictions have been responsible for delaying projects with studies. Many of these studies have halted the development of some projects for over a year. Ilan Gutherz, the Borrego Solar vice president, has confirmed that a large portion of projects have been left without progression as they wait for the state to complete its studies. Gutherz even stated that some projects are nearing cancellation and would have already been finished and operational if not for the restrictions.
As a means of conserving land in the state, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) forbade the construction of new installations on land that’s primarily designated as a core or priority habitat or a critical natural landscape. According to the DOER, the motion was intended to direct developers onto parking lot canopies and landfills. The state provided incentives to developers that use those developed areas and for those that make their solar installation pollinator-friendly.
Massachusetts community solar developers are understanding of the DOER’s decisions, but find that the regulations are too limiting. The Solar Energy Industries Association came forward and stated that 477-megawatts of solar development in the state would be halted under these new regulations. That’s nearly one-third of the SMART program’s expected production.
Developers and the Solar Energy Industries Association still have time to speak out against the regulations as they aren’t scheduled to be finalized until July.