Highlights

  • Created a new membership organization to support sustainable growth in solar PV markets in the Northeast by informing policy and market development through analysis, education, and collaboration.
  • Identified key policy topics and best practices for expanding solar markets, and surveyed current state policies with respect to each topic.
  • Developed educational materials for regional stakeholders on interconnection standards, green bank financing, and municipal permitting, and a clearinghouse for information on solar valuation.
  • Elevated the role of the Northeast Solar Energy Market Coalition (NESEMC) in regional solar market policy discussions, making the NESEMC a key resource for a series of harmonious state-level policy changes critical to increasing the business certainty necessary to achieve solar PV deployment goals.

Background

The Northeast Solar Energy Market Coalition (NESEMC) was officially established in September 2015, the first year of the Solar Market Pathways program, as a partnership of state and regional solar organizations representing more than 500 solar businesses in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The coalition aims to create sustainable growth across the region’s solar PV markets by informing policy and market development through analysis, education, and collaboration among member organizations. The NESEMC adopted a mission statement and guiding principles for achieving this vision.

The Pace Energy and Climate Center supports the NESEMC and worked with state and regional solar advocates and business associations, energy industry finance institutions, environmental and sustainability non-governmental organizations, and electric utility providers. This work included identifying and addressing critical market policy initiatives, communicating best practices to regional and national audiences, and providing clarity and market certainty for existing and future solar businesses in the region.

Establishing the Coalition and its Priorities

As a first step toward harmonizing regional policy, the project team built a database to assess the regional solar policy and market landscape, compile baseline state-level policy data, and host state-by-state comparative tables for the nine northeastern states represented in the coalition. The team used this database to track ongoing legislative, regulatory, and other solar market initiatives across the region. Next, the team identified eight solar-related policy topics that are fundamental to the development of high-functioning solar markets:

  • Renewable energy goals
  • Solar tariffs and rates
  • Virtual net metering
  • Community and shared solar
  • Green financing
  • Permitting
  • Licensing
  • Solar rights and access

The project team then analyzed how each state was addressing each policy topic, and compiled the results in a consolidated solar policy surveys document. Members used this research to compare policies across member states and to help craft their organizational strategies for pursuing best practices and greater regional harmonization.

Resources

Report:
Solar Policy Surveys Solar Policy Surveys
Author:  Northeast Solar Coalition

Solar Policy Surveys compiles information for 9 northeast states on state-level policies that significantly influence the solar energy market with regularly updated fact sheets

Tool:
Northeast Solar Coalition Guiding Principles Northeast Solar Coalition Guiding Principles
Author:  Northeast Solar Coalition

The guiding principles and mission statement for the Northeast Solar Coalition.

Outreach and Education

Using the solar policy survey results as a guide—along with member knowledge and experiences in their respective states—the NESEMC identified four policy areas requiring particular attention based on both their relative importance to each state’s solar energy market and their potential for meaningful regional harmonization: interconnection, green bank financing, municipal permitting, and solar valuation. The NESEMC team developed outreach and education plans for each of these policy areas.

For example, the coalition engaged stakeholders participating in interconnection working groups—such as Massachusetts’ Technical Standards Review Group—to evaluate the potential regional applicability of their work. This revealed the need for another survey of state policies, focused on five aspects of interconnection standards. The NESEMC published the results of its interconnection standards policy survey in January 2017, providing an overview of the interconnection policies, timelines, and costs of northeastern states.

For the topic of green bank financing, the NESEMC collaborated with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to investigate the benefits of expanding clean energy financing in three Northeast states. The analysis showed how those states could expand clean energy financing programs to make additional low-interest loans available to homeowners, businesses, and municipalities interested in energy efficiency improvements, solar panel installation, or other clean energy project investments. UCS published a series of fact sheets explaining the findings and methodology:

Resources

Case study:
Green Banks: Transforming Clean Energy Finance in Maine Green Banks: Transforming Clean Energy Finance in Maine
Author:  Union of Concerned Scientists

This analysis describes how a hypothetical Green Bank in Maine could make additional low-interest loans available for energy efficiency, solar panels, and more.

Case study:
Financing Clean Energy: A Powerful Tool for Driving Investment ... Financing Clean Energy: A Powerful Tool for Driving Investment in Vermont’s Economy
Author:  Union of Concerned Scientists

This analysis describes how a hypothetical Green Bank in Vermont could make additional low-interest loans available for energy efficiency, solar panels, and more.

Case study:
Financing Clean Energy: A Powerful Tool for Driving Investment ... Financing Clean Energy: A Powerful Tool for Driving Investment in New Hampshire’s Economy
Author:  Union of Concerned Scientists

This analysis describes how a hypothetical Green Bank in New Hampshire could make additional low-interest loans available for energy efficiency, solar panels, and more.

Report:
UCS Green Bank Analysis: Quantitative Methodology Descriptio... UCS Green Bank Analysis: Quantitative Methodology Description
Author:  Union of Concerned Scientists

This appendix describes the methodology used to quantify the impacts of hypothetical green banks in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Report:
How to Assess the True Value of Solar How to Assess the True Value of Solar
Author:  Northeast Solar Coalition

This factsheet provides an overview of a Value of Solar Study and key design elements.

Report:
Value of Solar Design Elements Value of Solar Design Elements
Author:  Northeast Solar Coalition

This factsheet includes key value of solar study design elements and applications.

Value of Solar Center of Excellence

The NESEMC developed two publications to educate coalition members and other regional stakeholders on important solar valuation issues: How to Assess the True Value of Solar and Value of Solar Study Design Elements. These documents provide a framework for evaluating net metering offset rates and direct incentives, as well as for establishing key design elements, sample language, and methodology for valuation studies.

Seeing that the need for information on solar valuation was not confined to the Northeast and could not be met with just two publications, the Pace Energy and Climate Center also launched the Value of Solar Center of Excellence website, a reference library that provides information about resource valuation issues. In addition to the two publications from the NESEMC, featured resources on this website include Achieving Very High PV Penetration: The Need for an Effective Electricity Remuneration Framework and a Central Role for Grid Operators and Value of Solar Tariff Pilot Design Elements, an educational document containing key design elements and sample language for legislation and methodology that explains the benefits of a value of solar tariff.

Resources

Report:
Achieving Very High PV Penetration: The Need for an Effective ... Achieving Very High PV Penetration: The Need for an Effective Electricity Remuneration Framework and a Central Role for Grid Operators
Author:  Northeast Solar Coalition

This article proposes that a value-based electricity compensation mechanism could be an effective vehicle to enable high solar penetration and deliver affordable firm power generation.

Report:
Value of Solar Tariff Pilot Design Elements Value of Solar Tariff Pilot Design Elements
Author:  Northeast Solar Coalition

This educational document contains key design elements and sample language for legislation and methodology that explains the benefits of the value of solar tariff.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

This project demonstrated the potential value of regional collaboration on solar market policy issues. Reducing market friction by harmonizing policies across jurisdictions can increase competition among solar providers, reduce soft costs, and accelerate solar deployment. Ideally, harmonization will take the form of replicating best practices. These lessons could be translated beyond the Northeast to other regions.

The NESEMC also discovered that replicating best practices and harmonizing solar policy on a regional scale is not sufficient to fully capture the value of solar and to transform the power sector. More attention will need to be paid to utility business models, ratemaking, and traditional regulatory issues that are not directly related to solar policy but have a profound impact on the viability of solar.

Going forward, the NESEMC plans to continue engaging in interconnection working groups and advocating for harmonized regional interconnection standards and procedures. The NESEMC also hopes to find new and sustainable funding sources so the coalition can continue as a viable, ongoing membership organization. This may entail expanding the coalition’s mission beyond a narrow focus on solar markets to include other energy resources (such as energy storage) and policy issues that play a key role in power sector transformation and grid modernization.