Massachusetts Community Solar: A Guide to Shared Solar in the State

Now more than ever, residents of Massachusetts and countless states across America are adopting alternative ways to power their lives. With community solar, Massachusetts investors, residents and landowners can all benefit from the development of large solar arrays.

As the solar industry shows no sign of slowing down, we felt that it was important to put together a comprehensive guide on community solar throughout Massachusetts. In this article, we will explore the rules and regulations surrounding community solar in the state before exploring notable projects and answering frequently asked questions regarding community solar in Massachusetts.

What is Community Solar?

Before we dive deep into everything you need to know about community solar in the Bay State, let’s first start by defining exactly what we are talking about. Community solar is essentially any solar power installation that accepts capital from and provides output credit and tax benefits to individual investors.

Community solar is a relatively new concept and has many aliases. Depending on their location and precise function, community solar projects can also be called:

  • Solar Gardens
  • Solar Farms
  • Community Solar Farms
  • Shared Solar Farms
  • Roofless Solar
  • Shared Solar
  • Energy Sharing
  • Virtual Net Metering
  • And more

For more information, feel free to read this guide on community solar to explore how it works, who it works for, as well as the pros and cons of adopting shared solar. However, information about solar is often very specific to your location. Policies, resources, prices, sunlight conditions, and community solar options are extremely different throughout the 50 states, and around the world.

How Does Community Solar Work in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, community solar can be adopted by nearly everyone that pays an electric bill in the state. Several legislative initiatives, private business, and sustainability efforts have made it possible for community solar to be easy to adopt state-wide.

As a Massachusetts resident, electricity users have the option to either “purchase” or lease community solar from a large number of providers. Massachusetts policies and sunlight have attracted both local and national developers to build countless solar arrays in hopes of local green energy adoption. Below, you will see an image of a solar panel farm generating renewable energy in Maynard, MA.

Solar Farm in Maynard, MA

Renting vs Owning in Community Solar

In a lease, community solar providers “rent” out their electricity to you, just as utility companies have been doing for years and years. The difference here is that you know that electricity from a community solar farm was provided without carbon emissions from traditional, utility energy. While some communities pay a premium for this privilege, some Massachusetts providers are even able to provide electricity at rates below normal market price.

On the other hand, private development makes it possible to actually “purchase” a part of a community solar farm, even if you never actually go to visit the site where the panels are located. Like in a lease agreement, community solar providers are able to virtually substitute their energy with your current electricity, which makes it possible to “go green” without modifying your home or property whatsoever.

In the long run, purchasing a piece of a community solar garden will almost always save you more on the cost of electricity than a solar lease or the use of traditional utility energy. However, short-term leases can also be a great way to buy specific amounts of green energy to reach environmental goals without being tied down to a large asset.

Massachusetts Community Solar Rules & Legislation

Over the past 20 years, the Bay State has made tremendous environmental strides by adopting green energy programs and supporting local solar initiatives. While any local incentives and rebates have helped property owners adopt solar panels at home or on their business, Massachusetts also has a few specific programs that have aided the rapid advancement of community solar within the state.

Virtual Net Metering

Perhaps you have heard of net metering, which is an electricity billing mechanism that allows consumers to generate some or all of their own electricity. Well as you may imagine, virtual net metering is a lot like ordinary net metering, just done virtually. Instead of hosting the solar panels on your property, like in the image from a Massachusetts home below, virtual net metering makes it possible to utilize solar energy generated in remote locations.

Virtual Net Metering

In 2008, the Green Communities Act enabled virtual net metering in Massachusetts, which allowed state residents to generate (or simply purchase), their own electricity offsite and transfer the energy to any other user within the grid. With this, developers and investors quickly began building large solar arrays across the state. Massachusetts is one of the few states in America to enact universal virtual net metering as a state-wide policy.

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC)

Two years after virtual net metering became available, the state of Massachusetts began offering Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) for producers of solar energy to earn more from their investment.

Beginning in 2010 the Massachusetts Department of Energy began its SREC II Carve-Out program, which allowed for solar energy producers to “trade” their excess electricity generation for SRECs. These SRECs could be sold at auction to electricity consumers statewide, with the Department of Energy only taking a small 5% commission.

Obviously, limits were placed on the amount of SRECs you can generate and sell. The program officially ended after 8 years in late 2018.

Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program

In November of 2018, Massachusetts replaced the SREC II Carve-Out program with the new and exciting Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target PRogram (SMART). The SMART program is designed to support 1,600 MW of solar energy development in a long-term sustainable effort sponsored by Eversource, National Grid and Unitil.  In place of SRECs, the SMART program now offers Solar Tariff Generation Units (STGUs), which will essentially serve the same purpose.

Massachusetts Community Solar State Ranking

In the eyes of many industry analysts, Massachusetts is second only to Minnesota in terms of state-wide community solar adoption. Massachusetts has a large amount of private and public community solar options up and running with many more in the planning and development stages.

Unlike most of the other top community solar states (i.e. Colorado and California), Massachusetts has a surprising number of third-party provided, private community solar installations. While the majority of nationwide solar farms are owned by utilities, easy adoption in Massachusetts has made it possible for many more private investors, governments, and organizations to build or utilize community solar projects.

In terms of adopting community solar and an individual level, Massachusetts has some of the most ideal conditions for both home and business owners. Massachusetts is a state with historically high electricity rates and a surprisingly good amount of sunlight throughout the year.

While many property owners are building their own miniature power plant on roofs and in fields, community solar is a viable option for renters, low-income residents, and others who simply cannot or do not want to host solar panels on their own property. Dollar for dollar, Massachusetts residents rank among the top consumers to benefit from solar adoption nationwide.

Massachusetts Community Solar Projects

Massachusetts residents will be proud to know that the number of community solar projects in the state is growing so rapidly, that it can be hard to track. Massachusetts has some of the most widespread and easily adoptable community solar projects in the country, which makes for a lot of arrays scattered throughout the roughly 10,000 square miles of state land.

At the end of 2020, Massachusetts has over 70 MW of community solar power installed throughout the state.

Massachusetts Community Solar Projects

Massachusetts Community Solar FAQ

Finally, we would like to close out this guide with answers to some of the most asked questions regarding community solar in the state of Massachusetts. To explore your options right away, feel free to contact Choose Solar for local rates and advice.

What is the largest privately owned community solar farm in Massachusetts?

In 2019, the Happy Hollow Community Solar and Storage Farm became the largest privately owned community solar farm in Massachusetts. In total, the project installed 7.1 MW of solar capacity near Winchendon, Massachusetts.

Unlike a lot of the state’s past projects, the Happy Hollow Community Solar and Storage Farm also includes 3.3-MW of electricity storage. The project was developed by Borrego Solar and CleanChoice Energy.

What city has the most solar in Massachusetts?

In terms of solar farms on government buildings and property, the town of Harvard, Massachusetts has the most solar installed in the state. Of course, this is just the beginning, as the city has active plans to reach nearly 100 individual arrays in the coming years.

In the image below, you can see a large solar array that is a part of Harvard University’s “greenest roof on campus.”

Green Roof Campus

Is community solar worth it in Massachusetts?

In short, yes, community solar is almost always worth it for home and business owners looking to save on electricity costs in Massachusetts. Whereas there are many obvious, environmental benefits for adopting clean energy, the availability of both sunlight, resources, and local projects make community solar rates generally lower in MA than those in most states across the country.

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