Marita Noon: Dear Northeast, How’s that solar working out for ya?

Commentary by Marita Noon - A couple of months ago, effective in November, National Grid, one of Massachusetts’ two dominant utilities, announced rate increases of a “whopping” 37 percent over last year. Other utilities in the region are expected to follow suit.
       It’s dramatic headlines like these that make rooftop solar sound so attractive to people wanting to save money. In fact, embedded within the online version of the Boston Globe story: “Electric rates in Mass. set to spike this winter,” is a link to another article: “How to install solar power and save.” The solar story points out: “By now everyone knows that solar power can save homeowners big money on utility bills.” It claims that solar works even in New England’s dreary winters and cites Henry K. Vandermark, founder and president of Solar Wave Energy in Cambridge, as saying: “Even snow doesn’t matter if your panels have a steep angle. It just slides right off them.”
       Solar is not the panacea it is promoted to be, though it is true that—after a substantial investment, heavy government subsidies (funded by all taxpayers), and generous net-metering programs (that raise costs for non-solar customers)—solar systems can save money on the typical homeowners’ monthly bill. (An unsubsidized system averages about $24,000.)
       New England has seen one big power plant close within the past year—Salem Harbor Power Station in Salem, Massachusetts went “dark” on June 1, in part due to tightening federal regulations. Another major closure will take place within weeks: Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
       A new, state-of-the-art natural gas plant on 18 acres of the 65-acre Salem site will replace the Salem Harbor plant. The remaining 47 acres will see redevelopment, including renewable energy. But, that plan has received pushback from environmental groups that want it fully replaced with renewables. TheBoston Globe states: “A decade ago, replacing the aging plant with a far cleaner natural gas facility would have thrilled environmental and public health advocates.” 
       The Conservation Law Foundation filed a lawsuit against the project’s approval, claiming the state “failed to adequately consider its own climate change law when state energy officials approved the Salem plant.” In February, the group settled the suit after it caused construction delays and reliability concerns. Read the full column



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