Massachusetts’ solar policy has made it a leading state for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems; developing a solar installation industry, pushing for the integration of solar into grid and utility planning and regulations, and, through its virtual net metering policy, pioneering a robust community solar market. With on-site storage becoming economic, solar paired with storage is poised to significantly expand resiliency applications, transform grid-wide planning and services, and support the electrification of transportation and heating. While solar provides a range of grid services that benefit all ratepayers, distributed and community solar also provide direct benefits to specific electric customers. However, those benefits have not been available equitably. Approximately three quarters of Massachusetts households cannot put solar on their own roofs because of structural or sitting barriers or they are tenants. The 30% federal renewable energy tax credit is not available to the 44% of taxpayers who don’t owe any federal income tax. Community solar typically requires high credit scores or a significant upfront payment. While much of solar development has been spurred by environmental concerns or industry’s needs, energy affordability is the key driver for low income households and communities’ participation in solar. Low income households pay a much higher percentage of their income for utility costs so the savings and hedge benefits from solar could be very beneficial to them. As Massachusetts’ solar policies have evolved, there have been initiatives to expand equitable access to solar. I will describe what has worked, what barriers remain and proposed strategies to overcome those barriers. I will also touch on how emerging technologies—storage, electric vehicles, microgrids—can benefit low income households, how to make sure that policy design allows them to participate and how to avoid having a two-tiered future energy system.
DeWitt (Dick) Jones is Executive Vice President of BlueHub Capital (formerly Boston Community Capital), a CDFI that has invested over $1.3 billion in low income communities. He also serves as president of its BlueHub Energy (formerly BCC Solar) and BlueHub Managed Assets affiliates and has been a member of BlueHub’s leadership team since it was established in 1985. Under his leadership, BlueHub Energy has developed 7 megawatts of PV capacity serving low income communities, including 3 MW of shared solar facilities. Dick was a co-founder of WegoWise and has served on its board since it was established. Dick was a founder of the Opportunity Finance Network and served on its board from 1988-1996.
Dick has developed innovative financing and business models for delivering renewable energy and energy services to low income communities and institutions. Under his leadership, BlueHub was recognized as a “Solar Champion of Change” by President Obama and by the Clean Energy States Alliance. BlueHub Energy is currently working on a series of microgrid and resiliency projects to integrate storage with its existing and new solar facilities.
Prior to joining BlueHub, Dick was Executive Director of the Massachusetts Urban Reinvestment Advisory Group and served as a VISTA volunteer from 1980-1981. From 1991-1998, Dick was co-owner of Maria and Ricardo's Tortilla Factory. His board experience has included Boston Day and Evening Academy, a public charter high school serving over-age students, the Penikese Island School, a wilderness school for boys in trouble with the law, and the Center for Women and Enterprise. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Kennedy School of Government. In 2008, Dick and his wife, Viki Bok, received the City of Boston’s Green ResidentialAward.