Massachusetts has reached the target it set for solar four years early, so they are upping it from the current 250 megawatts (MW) to 1600 MW by 2020.
The state had just 3 MW installed in 2007, but that changed under Governor Patrick, who established strong incentives that have led to significant cost reductions in solar electricity, creating a positive feedback loop.
Much of the growth can be attributed to the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which has a cap of 400 MW of solar. That will now be expanded.
In 2012, prices for residential solar electricity dropped 28% in Massachusetts, the second biggest decline in the US last year, says the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Also, the state's Green Communities Act, signed into law by Governor Patrick in 2008, provides grants and tech support to support solar development in municipalities. Nearly half of Massachusetts residents live in one of the 110 designated Green Communities.
Funding comes from auctions of carbon emission permits under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Towns are designated as Green Communities if they meet five clean energy benchmarks:
- Adopt a local zoning bylaw or ordinance that allows "as-of-right-siting" of renewable energy projects;
- Adopt an expedited permitting process;
- Establish a municipal energy-use baseline and a program designed to reduce use 20% within five years;
- Purchase only fuel-efficient vehicles for municipal use
- Require all new residential construction over 3,000 square-feet and all new commercial and industrial real estate construction to reduce life-cycle energy costs
This creative program also has the most aggressive targets for energy efficiency in the country through its Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), which has helped make the state #1 in the US on energy efficiency.
These targeted investments have led to economic growth and job creation. Clean energy jobs grew 11.2% from 2011-2012 and about 5000 companies employ 71,000 employees in the field, according to the 2012 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report.
Installed solar in the state powers more than 37,000 homes and when the new goal is reached, solar will supply 240,000 homes.
Massachusetts ranks #6 in the nation for solar installed in 2012, #7 for total installed solar and #2 for driving down costs.
Massachusetts sits at the end of the energy pipeline, spending billions of dollars annually to import all of its fossil fuel based energy sources from places like South America, Canada and the Middle East. That is lost economic opportunity that Massachusetts stands poised to reclaim through investments in home-grown renewable energy programs.