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As officials weigh future of solar energy, students, local leaders gather at Stonehill

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For Immediate Release

Thursday November 19, 2015

Contact: Alecsandra Steele, asteele@students.stonehill.edu, (508) 320-2272

Easton, MA – As state leaders consider lifting a cap on a key solar program, local leaders and more than 20 students gathered on November 19th at Stonehill College to discuss the benefits solar energy has brought to Massachusetts and how to ensure its continued growth. Speakers at the event included David Colton: Town Administrator for Easton, and Scott Howe: Business Development Partner with Solect Energy; a Hopkinton-based solar company that built Stonehill’s solar field.

“In a world with growing energy needs, solar power offers a smart alternative” said Alecsandra Steele, a student at Stonehill. “There’s a lot of support for solar power, especially among young people, and I hope our state’s leaders will get on board with bringing more solar to Massachusetts.”

In March, a cap on a key solar program known as net metering was hit for more than 170 Massachusetts communities. Net metering allows for full and fair compensation for the electricity that solar panels provide to the grid.

The net metering cap has prevented many families, nonprofits, businesses, and local governments from accessing the benefits of solar energy.

The Senate passed a bill to lift the net metering caps on solar in July. Earlier this week, the House also passed a solar bill, although advocates said that the House bill would ultimately slam the brakes on solar by making sharp, unjustified cuts to the value of solar credits.

The two chambers were unable to come to an agreement before the Legislature wrapped up for the year on Wednesday, meaning that solar projects may be stalled until January at the earliest.

“It seems self-evident that [solar power] is the way to go…” Colton told students. “You can have a direct benefit to your community; you can have an indirect economic benefit by keeping money in your town; and you can avoid the cost of bigger [natural gas] pipes and power lines. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth has stalled. It’s about to go from a national model in solar development – tremendous growth – to no solar development, unless the Legislature and the Governor act quickly.”

“I’ll tell you how [solar power] has benefitted the town of Easton. We built a 1.8 Megawatt facility on our landfill in South Easton, and it generates about a third of all the electricity we need to run our buildings – fire stations, schools – and our street lights. It saves us $200,000 a year. That’s like giving our school systems an extra $200,000 a year without raising taxes or getting local aid from the state. Not only are we using less electricity from the grid, but we are putting that money back into education and other departments.”

“I think community shared solar is one of the unsung heroes of solar projects.

There are tremendous community benefits to net metering, but it is capped in [National Grid] territory.” continued Colton. “We have another project that would produce 800 megawatts, but it is stalled because there is no more cap space. That project would save another $100,000 a year for the town of Easton – more money saved from our electric bills – that taxpayers don’t have to spend on education. But we can’t do it because of this artificial cap. This cap is affecting so many projects across the state – not just mine.”

Scott Howe told students about how solar is shaping the economy: “When I got into the business, solar pricing was over $5 a watt to install – today it’s under $3. In a 5 year period, the cost has dropped nearly a half! That’s a huge decline in cost for the solar industry. The industry is working hard from a technological standpoint to drive costs out of the system.”

“The numbers are very significant,” continued Howe, speaking about Stonehill’s solar program. “You’re saving $180,000-$200,000 a year. For every kilowatt-hour Stonehill uses, it’s one less you have to pay for… It’s been a very good program for the college, and we’re looking at potentially adding to that; getting more and more solar production out here. We’re looking at three carports right now that might go in Boland, Duffy, and Lot 17. We’re working out the final details with National Grid, but we’re hoping to start construction on it early next year. The result of that would be about 7.7 Megawatt hours of solar energy; right around half of what the campus uses. This would be a huge benefit for the school, and would make Stonehill one of the greenest campuses in the country! It will be a great win for the college.”

Today’s event was organized by a student at Stonehill in collaboration with Environment Massachusetts, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. Earlier this week, Environment Massachusetts co-organized a rally at the State House that brought together more than 100 grassroots activists and solar workers calling on state officials to take immediate action to lift the net metering caps on solar.

Last year, Massachusetts was fourth in the nation for the amount of solar energy installed, with enough solar added to the grid to power 50,000 homes with clean energy. Solar has grown more than 200-fold in Massachusetts since 2006. The solar industry currently supports more than 12,000 jobs statewide.

“When it comes to clean, renewable energy, there’s no reason to wait,” said Alecsandra. “State officials should act immediately to lift the caps on solar.”

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