The Baker-Polito Administration announced final updates to the Commonwealth’s Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program after filing emergency regulations in April. As a result of a robust stakeholder and public comment process, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) implemented revisions to land use regulations and grandfathering provisions in order to balance increasing the development of solar energy production in Massachusetts with protecting the Commonwealth’s natural resources. This next phase of the SMART program promotes the continued growth of solar in the Commonwealth by doubling the program capacity to 3,200 megawatts (MW).
“Massachusetts’ solar industry plays a critical role in meeting our clean energy and climate goals, and today’s updates to the SMART program reflect our continued leadership in advancing solar energy and reducing emissions,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “The updated program will support twice as much solar capacity while encouraging thoughtful solar siting and increasing protections for the Commonwealth’s most important natural resources.”
Massachusetts continues to be a national leader in solar, with over 105,000 projects and 2,700 MW installed across the state. On April 14, 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration filed emergency regulations related to the SMART program with the Massachusetts Secretary of State. Regulations went into effect immediately on April 15, 2020. The filing of the emergency regulations commenced an extensive three-month process of stakeholder engagement, public comment, and virtual tutorials.
Notable updates to the regulations included expanding the capacity of the program by 1600 MW to 3200 MW, expanding eligibility for low-income projects, promoting solar paired with storage, modifications to protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources, and several changes aimed at diversifying the types of projects.
“The next phase of the SMART program showcases our commitment to both protecting the natural resources of the Commonwealth as well as advancing the adoption of clean energy,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.“Protecting our natural environment is important to meeting our ambitious net zero emissions target while increasing resilience to climate change impacts throughout the state.”
Key changes to the program since the April 2020 filing include updates to the land use eligibility and expanded accommodations for solar projects that were previously in development. As in the April filing, the DOER continues to prohibit development on land classified as Priority Habitat and Core Habitat. DOER modified the regulation to allow projects sited on Critical Natural Landscape if the project is qualifying under the first 1600 MW of program capacity. As in the April filing, DOER prohibits development on land classified as Critical Natural Landscape if the project is qualifying in the second 1600 MW of available capacity. This change strikes a balance between protecting key endangered species habitat and continuing clean energy development.
The SMART program, which launched in September 2018 and is administered by DOER, promotes cost-effective solar development in the Commonwealth through an incentive paid directly by the utility company to the solar generation owner. In January 2019, DOER began the review of the program regulations once the program reached 400 MW of solar projects. “These updates to the SMART program will ensure that our clean energy industry maintains stability in the short term while advancing key energy and environmental objectives long-term,” said Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock. “Additionally, the many other updates to the program will allow for Massachusetts to maintain its national leadership role in the solar industry while protecting the Commonwealth’s natural resources.”