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Building and operating a solar PV system isn’t simple. For example, obtaining the necessary permits and inspections can present widely differing requirements among incentive programs, municipalities, and states.

In recent years, the industry has come to recognize the impact of these “soft” (that is, non-equipment) costs on the price of PV systems. Many efforts are underway to streamline and standardize the permitting process.

Staying focused on the post-installation inspection process is important too. Inconsistent or incomplete inspections can lead to increased project costs, impair system performance, or compromise the safety of those living and working around PV systems.

Robust quality-assurance programs, such as those offered by some state incentive programs, are a good way to provide expert review of PV installations. But these inspections often find issues not identified by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), such as local wiring or building inspectors. From an installer’s perspective, this means at least one return trip to the site on a system the installer may have considered complete.

Solar QA Pie Chart

That’s why it is important to provide local AHJs with the PV-specific training and support they need to complete a thorough and consistent inspection. Training and support means:

  • Rapid response on installation issues that may cause safety or performance issues.
  • Reduced burden on incentive programs to check for code compliance.
  • Lower incidence of system re-work.
  • The ability to leverage industry experts and tools across many AHJs.

Numerous programs and offerings are available to help AHJs successfully inspect PV systems. For example:

  • Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (ABCs) website. Solar ABCs is a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop codes, standards, and best practices for PV installation. http://www.solarabcs.org/
  • Photovoltaic Power Systems for Inspectors and Plan Reviewers by John Wiles. This book, available from Amazon and the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, provides inspectors with a handy reference on codes and standards related to PV systems.
  • U.S. DOE Sustainable Energy Resources for Consumers PV Inspection Checklist. While there are variations, this version combines several of the better checklists in the industry and provides a printable format that is easy to use in the field. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wip/pdfs/solarpv_checklist.pdf

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The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has released an Emergency Regulation with respect to the SREC program in Massachusetts.

On June 28, 2013, DOER filed an Emergency Regulation to establish rules by which the current RPS Solar Carve-Out program will be complete.  As an Emergency Regulation, the rules become effective upon filing, thus they are now in effect.  DOER has posted the Emergency Regulations on its website.

The emergency regulations expand the 400 MW cap of the current program to accommodate those projects that are well along in the development cycle, and to allow for small projects to continue moving forward in development.

Available on the DOER website is a list of projects that have been determined to be qualified or that submitted an administratively complete application, under the 400 MW cap.  Additionally, there is a list of projects that have applied outside of the 400 MW capacity limit.  If any projects that have qualified under the 400 MW cap have their applications withdrawn or revoked, project capacity from outside the 400 MW capacity limit will not be transferred under the cap.  Projects falling outside of the 400 MW capacity limit will be subject to the rules of the emergency regulations summarized below.

  • Units under the 400 MW capacity limit, as determined by DOER with a Statement of Qualification or an application deemed administratively complete by DOER that are greater than 100 kW, must meet the following construction timelines to maintain qualification in the current solar program.
  • Units that are outside the 400 MW capacity limit, as determined by DOER, and are greater than 100 kW must have an Interconnection Service Agreement fully executed by the customer and utility dated on or before June 7, 2013. They must meet the construction timelines below to be awarded a statement of Qualification under the current program.
  • Construction Timelines for Projects greater than 100 kW:
    • Receipt of Authorization to Interconnect from its local distribution company by December 31, 2013.
    • Units that do not receive an Authorization to Interconnect by December 31, 2013 may receive an extension to June 30, 2014 only if it can be demonstrated, to the satisfaction of DOER, that the Unit has expended at least 50% of its total construction costs by December 31, 2013.
    • If a Unit is not in receipt of the Authorization to Interconnect as of June 30, 2014 but can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of DOER, that the missing Authorization is due to delays of the local distribution company or due to remaining steps required by other parties for safe and reliable interconnection, the Statement of Qualification will be extended until the Authorization is received or denied.
  • Units equal to or less than 100 kW, or designated as a Community Solar Garden by MassCEC, regardless of their placement in the 400 MW capacity limit, will be qualified under the current program provided they submit a Statement of Qualification Application to DOER and have an Authorization to Interconnect by December 31, 2013 or prior to the effective date of the new solar program, whichever is later.
  • Units failing to meet construction timelines will have their Statements of Qualification revoked.
  • The effective date of all Statement of Qualifications issued by DOER under the current program will be no later than December 31, 2013. This provision will ensure that the compliance obligation of the current solar program will not be extended an additional year, at additional ratepayer cost.
  • The compliance obligation formula of the program as of the effective date of the regulation and after the program reaches its program cap will be revised from 400 MW to the new Program Capacity Cap announced by DOER in July 2014, to accommodate actual supply. DOER will provide exemption to the additional compliance obligation, once the obligation reaches the new cap, for load under contract prior to the effective date of the emergency regulation.

Continuing Regulatory Procedure

While DOER is confident in the Emergency Regulation as written, in accordance with administrative procedure laws (M.G.L. ch. 30A), the regulation will remain in effect for 90 days, with the opportunity for the Department to make the regulations permanent. DOER will soon schedule and announce a Public Hearing and comment period, in accordance with administrative procedures, and move to quickly promulgate the final regulation so as to keep the regulations in effect throughout the construction timelines and until the new Solar Carve-Out Program has started. Given the importance of timely business decisions being made based on the rules of the Emergency Regulations, DOER recognizes the prudence of completing the regulatory process quickly.

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On April 18, 2013 Cadmus staff attended the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) conference in Baltimore, MD. Featured at the conference was a panel discussion of net metering and new finance and policy approaches. Cadmus associate, Erin Sweet, was one of three panelists in this session. Her presentation, entitled “The System of Assurance of Net Metering Eligibility: Early Experiences and Lessons Learned,” drew from Cadmus’ experiences as the developer and administrator of the Massachusetts’ System of Assurance, commonly called the “net metering queue.” Ms. Sweet highlighted distributed generation stakeholders’ historic concerns regarding the availability of net metering services at the time of a project’s interconnection and how 2012 Massachusetts regulations help increase transparency and investor confidence.

Cadmus’ Erin Sweet on the Net Metering and New Finance and Policy Approaches panel at ASES’ Solar 2013

Cadmus’ Erin Sweet on the Net Metering and New Finance and Policy Approaches panel at ASES’ Solar 2013

Working collaboratively with DG stakeholders, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU) developed the System of Assurance of Net Metering Eligibility. This net metering queue ensures that businesses, communities, and other entities developing these facilities will be eligible for net metering services when their projects are complete, assuming they can meet and maintain certain requirements. This web-based application system is now located at www.MassACA.org.
This unique system represents a means to smoothly and efficiently approach a cap on an important incentive. Following the presentation, conference attendees shared positive feedback on the Commonwealth’s approach, and speculated on the applicability of such a system to other, similar capped incentive programs. With 43 states in the U.S. having already established some form of net metering, it may not be long until stakeholders in other states are looking for certainty that their project will receive this important incentive; and the System of Assurance provides a window into one state’s solution.

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The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) recently announced $250,000 in grant funding for school districts, municipalities, and water/wastewater districts pursuing renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Entities may use these funds specifically for Owner’s Agent Technical Assistance (OATA) as they explore opportunities for solar PV projects, energy management services, building audits, and other engineering studies.

Owner’s Agents can play a significant role in the implementation of energy projects. During the pre-development phase, Owner’s Agents frequently provide a variety of technical services, including project feasibility, site selection, and technical design review. Owner’s Agents can also provide guidance through the bid and procurement process, contract negotiations, and ongoing stakeholder relations. Owner’s Agents are versed in the technical, economic, and process-related elements of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and they often bridge the technical gap between project developers and the entities that they are doing business with.

Maximum individual awards are capped at $12,500, and are allocated for (from DOER’s Grant Application):
• Solar PV systems no less than 15 kW in size on property owned by the applicant
• Energy management services, i.e. energy savings performance contracts
• AHRAE Level 2 audits in oil or propane heated buildings only
• Engineering studies for more efficient heating systems (e.g. conversion from steam to hot water; NOT a more efficient boiler) or conversion to renewable or alternative fuel sourced heating system.

DOER will award these funds on a first come first serve basis. Applications may be submitted beginning February 4th at 9am. The application can be found on DOER’s website at http://www.mass.gov/energy/greencommunities under “Publications and Reports” and at http://www.comm-PASS.com by searching for solicitation PON-ENE-2013-019.

Cadmus has provided Owner’s Agent technical assistance services to more than 50 Massachusetts cities and towns in various stages of renewable energy project development, including solar PV, solar thermal, wind, and other technology types. For more information about Cadmus’ services and qualifications in this space, please contact Erin Sweet at 617.673.7101 or Erin.Sweet@cadmusgroup.com.

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Massachusetts cities and towns interested in community adoption of solar photovoltaic (PV) projects are now able to submit proposals demonstrating interest and engagement in participating in Round 1 of the 2013 Solarize Massachusetts program.  This program is organized by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER).  It is designed to drive down the cost of small-scale solar PV installations within selected communities through a partnership focused on localized marketing and installation efforts and capturing economies of scale. 

There will be two rounds of the Solarize Mass program in 2013.  During each round, MassCEC and DOER will select a minimum of eight communities (or groups of communities) to participate.  Communities may apply to one or both rounds, but selected communities can only participate in the program once.

Timeline for Round 1 of the Solarize Mass

Solarize Mass RFP to Communities:   Released

January 16, 2013

DOER Solarize Mass Webinar

January 23, 2013

Community RFP Questions: Due

February 4, 2013

Community Expression of Interest: Due

February 7, 2013

Community RFP FAQ: Posted

February 11, 2013

Solarize Mass RFP to Communities:   Proposals Due

By 4:00pm on February 20, 2013.

Announce Selected Communities   (Targeted)

March 14, 2013

For more details about Solarize Mass visit www.SolarizeMass.comClick here to access the solicitation documents, including the Request for Proposals, and learn more about how to apply for Round 1 of the program.

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Massachusetts cities and towns seeking technical assistance with their energy efficiency or solar PV projects may be interested in the Department of Energy Resources’ (DOER) recent solicitation for Owner’s Agent Technical Assistance (PON-ENE-2012-014). Municipalities can apply for Owner’s Agents Technical Assistance to support their solar power purchase agreements (PPA) or energy-efficiency performance contract (ESCO) projects.

DOER anticipates awarding 10-15 municipalities up to $10,000 worth of technical assistance services. Grants are awarded on a first-come first-serve basis, and applications are due by June 29, 2012 at 5:00 PM.

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The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), in partnership with DOER, has selected the following 17 Green Communities to participate in the 2012 round of the Solarize Mass Program: 

  • Acton
  • Arlington
  • Boston
  • Hopkinton
  • Melrose
  • Mendon
  • Montague
  • Newburyport
  • Palmer
  • Pittsfield-Lenox
  • Shirley
  • Sutton-Millbury
  • Wayland-Sudbury-Lincoln

For those interested in learning more about the Solarize Mass model or implementing a similar program in their own community, MassCEC has posted an overview of the 2011 Solarize Mass Pilot Program on their website (available here).

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The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) are requesting proposals from designated Green Communities interested in participating in the second round of Solarize Massachusetts. This program aims to drive community adoption of PV projects through localized marketing and installation efforts, which in turn will help reduce the installation costs of small-scale PV projects within SolarizeMass communities.

 Per MassCEC, those applicants that “demonstrate a clear and committed plan to increasing education and outreach around solar PV, as well as how to streamline the permitting processes around small-scale solar PV installations, will be highly competitive.”

MassCEC will be accepting responses until March 21, 2012, and a bidder’s conference is scheduled for February 27th.

More information about this solicitation can be found here.

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For those interested in wind, we are pleased to announce the public release of the Distributed Wind Site Analysis Tool (DSAT).  Built with funding from US DOE’s Wind Powering America Program and other sources, DSAT is a powerful new online tool for making accurate performance predictions for distributed wind energy projects.  Combining proven calculation techniques, computer modeling, and real-world performance data, DSAT is a valuable resource for landowners and communities considering wind power projects.

Please visit http://dsat.cadmusgroup.com to see DSAT for yourself.

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In a typical solar power purchase agreement (PPA), a community hosts solar PV on public rooftops or land and enters into a long-term contract for the purchase of electricity from the PV system(s). This third-party ownership model is the most common way in which Massachusetts communities procure solar PV systems (as opposed to outright ownership, for example).  While 2010 and 2011 saw a significant number of public solar PPA projects in the state, interest from solar developers has slowed in recent months. As a result, those communities just releasing RFPs for their solar project or reviewing bids from a recent solicitation may not see as many responses or as attractive prices as their predecessors, leaving many to wonder –what is going on in the Massachusetts community solar market?

Concern over Renewable Energy Incentives

Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) generated by PV systems (which communities typically give over to solar developers in PPAs) are an important revenue stream in a developer’s financial model for a PV project. Due to recent analyses of and concerns about the state’s SREC market, some developers are struggling to secure SREC contracts at sufficient prices. Without adequate SREC contracts, developers cannot offer attractive PPA rates to communities. Many solar developers active in Massachusetts have slowed or stopped activity in the state.

What does that mean for my community’s hopes for a solar PPA project?

Some developers and analysts believe that Massachusetts SREC prices will recover in six to nine months and that the pace of development will pick up again at this time. In the interim, communities may not see as much interest from the development community or receive attractive PPA rates (e.g., less than 10 cents) on proposed projects.

In order to take advantage of federal incentives that apply to solar projects developed in 2012, community solar project teams should use this period to prepare for a summer 2012 RFP (or RFQ) release, should the SREC market turn around at that time. Proactive teams can use online tools such as the National Renewable Energy Lab’s In My Backyard tool or PVWatts for preliminary resource assessments and to narrow down potential project sites. Using the results of these analyses, as well as details about the sites, solar project teams should begin preparing language for a RFP or RFQ. If more detailed site assessments are conducted, finding should also be included in the RFP.

If and when Massachusetts SREC market projections improve, the most proactive project teams will be first in line to do business with an eager solar industry.

What if we are currently negotiating a solar PPA?

Local officials and staff in Massachusetts are constantly contacted by interested solar developers. If your community is executing a PPA project at this time, be sure to get as much information as possible as possible about the SREC assumptions used in the developer’s financial model for your project. If a developer assumes more than $285 per megawatt-hour (28.5 cents per kilowatt-hour) for 10 years worth of SRECs, tread cautiously. Make sure that your PPA does not contain, for example, a “Change in Law” provision that allows the developer to renegotiate the PPA price with you during the contract term if their SREC assumptions do not hold (e.g., if the assumptions about SRECs used to price your project were out of date or overly optimistic). Also, if the solar developer will use SREC brokers to sell the SRECs from your project, encourage them to get regular updates from their brokers on available SREC contracts.


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