Massachusetts SMART Solar Program

Massachusetts SMART Solar Program

Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program

Last January, Massachusetts developed a new incentive program called SMART, to double its solar capacity to more than 3 gigawatts. 

The new policy is dubbed “Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program.”

Fixed contract price

The core of the Massachusetts policy is a fixed contract price (inclusive of the value of energy and incentive) and a fixed term for solar projects less than 5 megawatts. So instead of getting net metering for energy and a solar renewable energy credit as an incentive, the latter of which could fluctuate significantly over the project’s life, projects will have a near-certain revenue stream.

The prices will be differentiated by capacity.

  • Projects larger than 1 megawatt will participate in a competitive bid for the first block of capacity, with a cap on that first block of $0.15 per kilowatt-hour for projects 1-2 megawatts
  • 2 to 5 megawatt projects will be paid $0.14 per kilowatt-hour

Contract prices don’t reflect what the actual per-kilowatt reimbursement will be to the producer, but rather set a floor. For net metered projects, for example, the incentive will be determined by subtracting the “volumetric distribution + transmission + transition + three-year average basic service rate for this particular rate class” (base rate) from the contract price, and then that value will be fixed over time. So if a 25-kilowatt project has a 28-cent contract price but an 18-cent base rate, its 10-year incentive will be $0.10 per kilowatt-hour.

This chart shows the contract prices for solar projects of various sizes, based on a hypothetical 14-cent clearing price for the 1-2 megawatt auction.

Additional incentives

The contract price is not the full story for solar project compensation, however. The new tariff also provides additional incentives for projects that meet certain criteria. These include bonuses to the per-kilowatt contract for projects cited at certain locations (such as those mounted to buildings, at landfills, or built as solar canopies) and projects that include energy storage. The additional incentives also come into play based on the inclusion of certain off-takers, including public entities or low-income property owners.

One key element of the bonuses is that they can stack, meaning a project can collect them for multiple criteria. The following chart shows how adders would work for a 600-kilowatt solar project with a baseline contract price of $0.154 per kilowatt-hour, that is installed as a solar canopy and serves a public entity.

SMART Tariff contract value

The intent of the additionals is clearly to incentivize development of solar projects that may serve a public interest not currently captured by the solar market. Fleshing out the market with these Incentivizes is an essential component of the shift toward an Energy Democracy model of renewable energy ownership.

Small Solar Projects

To ensure participation among the smallest distributed solar projects, each block of program capacity reserves 20% for solar projects under 25 kilowatts, for a total of about 320 megawatts of smaller-scale solar of the 1,600 megawatt program.

  • Cost sharing
    To avoid unequal treatment, program costs will be divided proportionately among distribution utilities based on their total share of state electricity sales. This avoids potential issues with small utilities hosting a disproportionate number of solar projects and in turn bearing the costs
  • Declining blocks
    Like Germany’s feed-in tariff or California’s Solar Initiative, the Massachusetts SMART Tariff also bakes in declining solar prices. In particular, the contract prices (and adders) will decrease by 4% per block. Each block will include approximately 200 megawatts of capacity, with one-fifth of that capacity reserved for solar projects 25 kilowatts or smaller. The following chart from the Department of Energy Resources, shows how the total contract price falls with each new block of capacity, but the incentive level falls even faster with the presumption that the value of the energy (the retail rate) will rise over time
  • Rationale
    Clear advantages of the SMART tariff program are predictability and certainty, for both regulators and program participants. These factors ensure the program will be more durable for the long term, even as the renewables marketplace in Massachusetts evolves, rather than merely sparking a short-term boost to renewable generation development.

Massachusetts Rules

Rules for the SMART Program:

  • Long-term revenue certainty for producers, reducing financing risks and lowering project soft costs
  • Predictable program costs
  • Incentives that decline with the cost of solar
  • Contract prices that are identical across utility service territories, regardless of varying retail prices

Clean Energy States Alliance

Massachusetts’ SMART tariff is being touted as a second-generation program, designed to double installed capacity of solar from 1,600 to 3,200 megawatts over the next several years. It applies several lessons learned from earlier feed-in tariff programs in Ontario and Germany, setting initial prices competitively and adjusting over time based on capacity rather than time. It encompasses many ways to differentiate projects, going far beyond project size to include location and even beneficiaries.

It may not be the perfect solar program, but given the care and detail in putting the SMART program, it’s certainly one to watch. For more information on the SMART program, see this webinar by the Clean Energy States Alliance.

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