E028: Tax Reform Bill Explained by DC Lawyers from Stoel Rives and Mintz Levin

In this episode of EnergyWakeup I talk about the current Tax Reform Bill with Audrey Louison from Mintz and Greg Jenner from Stoel Rives. The tax reform bill was in conference committee at the time of this recording and had several issues that impacted the solar industry. The corporate AMT, a lower corporate tax rate and the BEAT provision. I walk through each of the items with Audrey and Greg, get an explanation (because nobody understood the BEAT provision) and how it impacts solar project financing going forward.

Greg has been around tax law for many years, including as a tax counsel for the senate finance committee when the last major tax reform passed in 1986 and Audrey has completed over 500 project transaction. This bill will have major impacts to the way you present projects to your clients and investors and this episode helps guide you through that process with a bit more knowledge. This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at SolarWakeup Live DC.

Make sure to catch previous episode on your favorite podcast platform

Make sure to check out SolarWakeup Live! in New York on 1/31.

If you enjoyed this episode as much as I did, make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher radio. Please subscribe and share with your friends how much EnergyWakeup is helping you.

 

E027: Financing Small Solar With New Tax Equity and Power Of The Crowd With SunWealth CEO Jon Abe

In this episode of energywakeup I am joined by Jon Abe the CEO of SunWealth. Sunwealth is a solar start up based in Boston Massachusetts focused on financing small commercial and nonprofit solar projects. The innovation at sunwealth is getting new capital into solar by educating them about the small C&I market.

In our conversation Jon tells you about his work to grow a partner network for scaling and partnering with a corporate investor to fund the business. Jon is a solar veteran that made the jump to a startup and is looking to do great things. This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at SolarWakeup Live Boston.

Make sure to catch previous episode on your favorite podcast platform, episodes with the director of renewable energy at Massachussets DOER, the CEO of Sunpower, Former FERC Chairman and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Join us on January 31st in New York and look out for future events across the Country.

Make sure to catch previous episode on your favorite podcast platform, episodes with

Mike Judge from Mass DOER

Jon Wellinghoff on the DOE NOPR

Sunpower’s Tom Werner are now available

Make sure to check out SolarWakeup Live! in D.C. on 12/6 and NYC late January.

If you enjoyed this episode as much as I did, make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher radio. Please subscribe and share with your friends how much EnergyWakeup is helping you.

YANN: We’ve got John Abe, he’s CEO at Sun wealth and before I tell you a little bit about his background. I wanted to have John on and have him speak to you, because I believe in the market that he’s serving. I spent many years focused on C and I and it’s an incredibly frustrating, difficult, low margin business and you know, John is tackling it and I think he’s tackling in a unique way and that’s why we want to have him speak. But as by way of background he spent a few years at a Massachusetts state agency, which we’re not going to- we’re going to get into that a little bit and he was also a vice president NEX Amp before starting sun wealth.

Well, we’re going to start off the conversation because he told me a really interesting story about evergreen, and I almost asked the senator about, the history of manufacturing in Massachusetts but it’s timely, right? We have this conversation about 201 happening and the role of manufacturing or module assembly in the US, versus the rest of the jobs that are created in the solar market. So John, welcome to solo wake up live why don’t we– why don’t you tell that story so that people get a little bit of the background.

ABE: Sure, well John thank you for having me and of course I’m not tackling C&I all my own but with great partners and with a great team and we’ll get more into that. So, everyone knows how Obama has Solyndra, but most people don’t know that Romney had evergreen. And I worked at the Massey’s before was called the Massachusetts technology collaborative Renewable Energy Trust. And one of the things that we were tasked with there was making investments in creating jobs in the solar industry. And so, it was at that time when the state threw in large part the M. T. C Renewable Energy Trust made a large investment to help fund and largely subsidized a manufacturing plant for evergreen, in Massachusetts.

And so, what was interesting enough is there was a lot of debate at the staff level, in that recommendation and I think the prevailing wisdom at the time was that. It made a lot of sense for Evergreen to have their R&D facility here in Massachusetts but that again this is just the staff level. That it probably did not make sense for them to have a manufacturing plant but hence you know the political winds prevail and of course we had Evergreen and the state funded manufacturing plant.

YANN: So, the moral of the story is the 15,000 jobs and solar in Massachusetts came through the market, but not the manufacturing?

ABE: Yes, at least at that stage.

YANN: Well, I don’t know what that mean.

ABE: Yeah.

YANN: Module manufacturing we’re going to separate–

ABE:  The first 10,000 jobs here in Massachusetts were for the most part downstream solar jobs.

YANN: Absolutely. So, tell us a little bit about Sun wealth and your focus on C&I in particular the–you focus on the small side of S&I and you’ve got some unique financing structures. But startup, give us the background of how you got to starting Sun wealth and what mission you’re trying to solve.

ABE: And so, as some of you know I used to work at NEX Amp and NEX Amp, basically started as a residential small C&I installer. Went to more of a C&I installer but really overnight went to a small utility scale. Develop build own operate model, and I really love the C&I business, I loved it when I was that NEX Amp I loved it, when I was working at Renewable Energy Trust, it was the champions are not-for-profits, local businesses and municipalities that really create the foundation for what Solar is today. Not just in Massachusetts but everywhere.

And, I was in a boardroom doing what is about a million dollar, closing C&I deal and there were 27 file folders. There were, no three attorneys in bow ties walking around, one of them might have been an accountant. There was a really nice lunch that ultimately, we were paying for and you know a couple investors would come in and do their signatures and leave. And, we got the bill on that and it was probably a hundred and thirty, hundred and forty thousand dollars and third party legal consulting and accounting fees for that deal.

Then you know fast forward a whole whopping two and a half months and you’re in almost an identical room, but with the same law firms I think they’re just on other sides of the deal, and the exact same deal structure and they still charge 120 thousand dollars on everything. And at that time, [inaudible 00:05:41] use the chairman of panel clause, well you looked that meaningless, “You know John there’s a better way of doing this,” and I said, “Yeah, absolutely,” and so we’ve started and founded sun wealth on the premise that you could do a lot better around C&I deals or financing smaller solar projects in general. And so, what we did was, base that on the premise that with experience, standardization, of all the documentation, and a little bit of technology. You can work with developers to help them provide PPA’s to their small C&I projects and you can create a new source of capital that’s going to reduce the transaction costs and believe in the standardized method, especially after you do a couple deals with them.

YANN: But, you weren’t further right? The standardization isn’t– that’s not novel right? Sap C and now there’s sap C 3.0 pace, you know some of these things have been around but you also merged crowd funding, kind of crowd sourcing whatever the term is that keeps you out of legal trouble. You also merge that into it you know. Why did you do that and what has that–what benefit has that created for the structure?

ABE: Yeah and so, when we looked at the traditional sources of financing for solar projects, whether it’s bundles of residential, assets or larger utility scale projects or even at the high end of C&I, where you have investment grade credits. There are a number of boxes that they just have to check to do those deals. And there’s a number of fixed costs that goes into those deals and there’s deal size limitations. So for example, you know we wanted to work with middle market local installers, to let them build and operate these projects and talk to XYZ institution, they said, sorry we can’t underwrite that installer. That makes no sense! Some of the best projects that have been installed across the state have been done by qualified installers that Wall Street would never underwrite as an installer.

YANN: Because of their bank ability?

ABE: Because of a perceived Bank ability. And you know I’ve seen, other companies that are much larger and check the box on bank ability, build some really crappy projects that we would never underwrite. That’s unlawful.

YANN: I think we all have names to be redacted.

ABE: So, a second thing that they might not under write is actually the credit of the off taker in the PP A’s and I’ll give you a couple examples. Where typically they’re looking for a bundle of residential projects and they’re underwriting a FICO score of 740 and above or something like that or they’re looking for a very large C&I project or utility-scale project that has a contract with Google or Apple and they’re underwriting that credit and that’s being great. What they might not under write is, I’ll give you an example the Walden Woods project where we couple solar projects with. So, this is a not-for-profit that was founded by Don Henley 25 years ago, because condo developers were about to buy and develop the land around Walden Pond State Park.

So, he bought it with a couple other people and they basically funded it but you know what’s worth probably tens or hundreds of millions of dollars with the property and endowed it, you know to basically do mission work, similar to Thoreau. And what they have now is, they have a center there, they have a library, that actually uses a lot of electricity because it houses some of the original Thoreau works, and it’s dramatically sealed. They have, let’s see over a 25-year operating history. They have a huge endowment relative to the size of their and budget and they own a ton of assets. And so by any logical underwriting process, their credit is good, and it’s good for not just the 10-year PP A or 20-year PP A but probably for generations to come. And that is a credit that Wall Street would not underwrite.

YANN: I mean credits, a bigger story right? Because there’s the credit that won’t default but then there’s also the credit that you won’t foreclose and maybe that you– because a lot of pace lenders for example won’t do deals with churches because who wants to foreclose a church? And you know, but if you don’t have the credit, you know you and I could make a personal business decision and say, well that makes sense. But you still have to get the lender to– unless you’re going to just do unleveled deals throughout, you know how do you solve that piece?

ABE: So, how do we get the lender comfortable–

YANN: With your portfolio?

ABE: With our portfolio? So, there’s a couple ways we do that. So, the first thing we do– the first underwriting criteria we have, is that our PP A provides clear, long-term savings to our customers. So, you know people come to us and say, well you know they’re willing to pay a 13 cents and I think they’re avoided cost this, you know about 13 cents and I say well you know you’re actually including demand charges and calculating their per kilowatt hours probably closer to 10 like, let’s get them to 8 cents a kilowatt hour, we’re not going to underwrite this project.

So, operational savings is fundamental to every deal we do. Then we do your standard credit check, we review financials and then we ask this question. You know, has this business or organization or government entity been around for a generation and do they provide a product or service that’s going to enable them to be around for a generation or more? The next criteria look at is geography, in terms of their replacement value in the event, you know they can’t pay their bill somebody else can. Give in geography or building function and based on all those criteria, we get our debt to invest in the project. They want to see it, but it’s not just the data, you have to tell a longer-term story about it.

YANN: Are you going to traditional community banks, banks for your leverage or are you going into a different direction?

ABE: So we can, but let me tell you a little bit about our investor community. So, we raise tax equity and solar bonds directly from our community investors. And I wouldn’t say we’re crowd sourcing it, but it’s really as community sourcing it. We’re building a community of accredited investors, that either have the– much smaller percentage have the ability to invest in our tax equity products or as most or a larger number have the ability to invest in our solar bonds. And they are a combination of high net worth individuals, trusts, small institutions, wealth managers that believe in what we’re doing and our product and you know we’ve been working with them for years now to get them to funnel their client money into projects.

YANN: And the– so how does that look from a fund raising, but also from a project finance perspective, tax equity investors, K Ones and then the bonds is that equity or is that debt structures with interest coupons?

ABE: Yes, so technically to get into the details, we typically back lever our deals and so they have a membership interest in one of our LL C’s and they get a k1 as well, with interest–

YANN: So the solar bonds are actual equity investor?

ABE: Correct.

YANN: Understood. So, let’s jump over to the other side which is, you did an interesting corporate deal you know you what you– maybe you raise some seed money but you did a corporate deal with panel call. Describe why you did that, how did you do it? But also what were what was the decision-making process in terms of, does this make sense for us and this is what we would get in return for doing that?

ABE: Sure, and so from an early stage, what we wanted to do was assemble a board of directors and key investors that understands what we’re trying to do and have deep expertise in the component of what we’re doing. So, if you look on the project side, we wanted someone with market expertise. We wanted someone with technical expertise and we wanted someone with expertise on the built environment as well. So, when you look at the technical expertise and our desire to be in that space, panel claw is a perfect fit from our perspective. It was a real home run to get panel claw as a strategic investor.

There’s a couple reasons for that, when we work with developers and we try to be as agnostic as possible about equipment, choices, it doesn’t really make sense to get a panel company to be our strategic technical expert in that space. Because well for obvious reasons, there’s so many of them, it’s commoditized. It didn’t make sense for us to get an inverter company to be our technical strategic partner, for similar reasons though, perhaps not as extreme. And what really made sense from our perspective was to get someone who specialized in the same space we do.

Basically, flattop commercial, rooftop systems though we do pitchers and we do aggregations of low to moderate income residential and we have some ground mounts but they really focus in that area and understand it. They have 40% market share and when we talk to a developer that in the rare instance doesn’t know panel Claw, it’s still a plus that panel Claw is an investor in our company, as a partner.

YANN: But, I mean a) how hard is it to raise business model, venture investment and you know where else were you trying to get capital because there’s other people that are you know similar ideas right? I spent three years doing a pace PP A startup and, let’s just say I want three years of my life back[laughter], but you know leading question but I mean, how complicated is it to do what you did?

ABE: It is really hard. I think the interview process with panel Claw started over ten years ago and that’s when I was stuck into a cube when Next Amp and Panel Claw are bootstrapping in the same building next to Costa.

YANN: How do you scale from here you know, I mean maybe that’s a follow-on to how hard is it to get to get venture money. But how do you scale your business, where do you scale and to match on to the conversation I had with Daniel. What how does energy storage maybe help that?

ABE: And, I don’t be too coy about what I said about the relationship with panel Claws, because on the flip side our market, technical market investor is a company called Sky View. I don’t know if you’ve heard them. But they have one the largest that’s rack and rack positions in the entire country. And that was more of a deliberative four or five month discussion to get them on board. But they’re a company that sees downstream solar every day and they understand the problems.

The first meeting was fairly straightforward and then they just needed to understand the business model and why it was the best for trying to do, what we’re trying to do. And, the great thing about having them on board is that, they had some good ideas on how we would tweak to make things better. Now, in terms of scaling this business, I think you know we’re essentially a two sided market or a bridge between projects and investors. And on the project side I think it’s evident to a lot of people in this room but there’s a huge untapped opportunity around C&I, and it’s just a matter of cultivating and cost-effectively bringing those projects to the point they’re shovel-ready.

On the investor side, what we’re doing is we’re creating a new source of capital for solar. And it is challenging to do, but where we started was you know with a community our first project we did we had nine investors and there was 100% tax equity basically investment. And from there we now a community of 80 investors, but what has changed since then in the last two-and-a-half years, well we went from having a number of individuals to now we have several institutional investors. We have several foundations that invested in us and we have a number of wealth managers as well that are funneling clients to us as well. And then, the other thing that’s changes obviously, the transaction size has gone from 25– our average transaction size, has gone from 25,000 to over 50,000 per transaction.

YANN: And I mean, what kind of deals are you looking for, how many states are you active in, you know how many projects have you completed?

ABE: So, let’s see, so we’ve completed almost 30 projects and we have completed projects in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York State, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and DC. We have a California project in the pipeline, with our trusted development partner central plan as well and so we do see ourselves as relatively geographically agnostic. And, our goal is to really find projects that basically pencil have good IRS, not only do they have to have a good– a decent IRR for us to do the deal but in addition to that we have to make sure that the PP A is providing a value to the host and that we can underwrite the host and our development partner as well.

YANN: And where are you getting your deal flow from?

ABE: So, when we look at the market there are probably no more than a hundred to two hundred developers across the country that would make really good partners for us. So, at least initially we are talking to people one at a time and we’re trying to source a good partner, you know we have a great partner in Buffalo. We have a great partner in the Boston area we have a couple partners in the Boston area that we work with. One out in western mass, one in Connecticut, one in Vermont and what we are planning to do once we really want to grow our project pipeline as well, I mean we do have an investor that has 40% market share in the commercial rooftop racking system and deals with a hundreds of customers a number of which would be ideal partners with us and we haven’t even tapped into that faucet yet.

YANN: So, from a business perspective right I mean you know, I think we all recognize how difficult it is that you do you know as you’re talking about different geographies all I can think of is there’s so much regulatory and so many regulatory things that I don’t know about, that I would have for large projects hired a lawyer for, which sort of part of your original plan of not doing, so that you can routinely standardize. But, we live in a in an energy market where there are 200 markets it’s not one country it’s 200-300 energy–

ABE: At least.

YANN:  At least, how do you keep your margin up, so that you can drive value back to your shareholders?

ABE: So, this is where tactically how we’ve built the team and basically when you talk about, well standardization is great but it only take you so far. And so, in addition to being you know, my role at next amp, I was also in charge of regulatory affairs. So, I have a decent amount of knowledge on each of the markets, the key ones, we’re not trying to do every market but, the ones we do you know the ten markets we have a pretty good understanding institutionalized within us.

One of my partners Omar, he comes from both Wall Street where he worked on fixed income, he worked at Cohn Reznick Capital Markets, where he structured deals and then he was CFO for green Scots as well. So, he brings not just deal experience and transaction experience, but he also understands four or five markets really, really well. Our other partner Ryan comes from the social impact investing space. So, he understands our investing community really well and the regulations around that as well. So, we focused on building the right team, not necessarily in an entrepreneurial way but in very functional way in order to get the job done, that we needed to do and to do it very cost-effectively.

YANN: So, from an exit standpoint, do you see kind of in a few years are you the mosaic- and I use mosaic in a broad term of residential loan provider- are you the mosaic of the C&I market, providing an ability for whether I’m a small you know maybe I’m a Sun Power dealer and all of a sudden the house– I install solar in a house and the guy owns, you know the family owns some business and I as a residential install all of a sudden find myself with a hundred kW and I need an investing source. And are you the provider of that capital to solar companies around the country?

ABE: Yes, recognizing that the developers as far as we work with, they are likely going to be small or medium sized players but we will pre qualify them.

YANN: Okay, and are there instances where someone would bring you a project, that you say, Listen, this isn’t your expertise but we have someone in that area that you can work with?

ABE: To help them with the development of the deal?

YANN: Sure.

ABE: Yes, that might be the case. However the C&I projects we tend to focus on, aren’t development intensive and so you know a lot of our partners they might not have developed a hundred kilowatt project before on their own and they but they’re used to selling them and building them. We are glad to work with them through the first couple ones to share our recipe with them, so that they can do it themselves and on the next deal, develop it on their own and bring it to us for financing.

YANN: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten in starting this business?

ABE: The best advice I’ve got on this, was that because we’re raising money and we’re raising money from a new source of capital that our business wasn’t going to grow at the speed of technology or how fast we could integrate and update our advancement platform that our business is going to grow at the speed of trust.

YANN: It’s good advice. What advice would you give to your competitor? Someone in this room is going to knock you off all point of this conversation.

ABE: So you know I think, we learned a lot from– before mosaic was a residential lending platform–

YANN: It was a crowd funding company.

ABE: It was a crowd funding company for C&I projects. So, we learned a lot from them and I think that what we’ve learned and this might change and maybe someone’s going to disagree with us and meet us in the middle, is that if you want to do what we’re doing in terms of accelerating the flow of capital and to undeserved commercial solar projects, you got to do it from the ground up, it’s not a top-down type of business.

YANN:  Right, so you’ve got a regulatory background and we had Senator Boncore earlier, and we have Michael Judge, coming up tell Senator Boncore, why you need the net metering caps raised and ask Michael a question, no. You’re the regulatory guy.

ABE: That’s right, so you know one of the things I promised my investors being a former regulatory guy and knowing how wonky and times lucky that can be is, I wouldn’t do a lot of advocacy as CEO Son Watt Lee son for the first couple years. However, I’m going to take this opportunity to say a couple things. So, you know we need the nebular in caps and it in Massachusetts because, you have a lot of jobs and you have a lot of projects that are tied up in National Grid and a couple other service territories that won’t move forward until they’re done. And it’s not just having smart on but we need those to kind of fill the gap between now and that.

And so, if you’re interested in you know essentially reducing the cost of this business over time, one of the things you have to get rid of and smart program is going to help do that is, staying the course and smoothing over these stops and starts that we experience in the market because it’s really inefficient. It does spawn a little bit of creativity and ingenuity, but at the end of the day what it really does is it really hurts, local installation jobs across the board.

So, then what I would ask Michael is, to provide more transparency around and be more actively involved in developing some of the DPU related rules that need to be put in place before you know somewhat as a financier can really understand and start to underwrite the smart program. So, this has to do with the details around, where the utility meter is going to go? And how long is it going to take for that meter to be installed? And what happens if it doesn’t get installed in time? And what is really the definition of a bill credit in the smart program? And where is that going to show? And how does that differ from a net metering credit? And how are these programs going to interact?

I think they’ve done a great job, and they’ve passed the ball over the DPU, they still have to go through the option process as well but I’m confident that they’re going to get that done. But the DPU to me is a bit of a black hole in terms of what they’re going to do and how they’re going to ultimately carry the ball across the finish line and get this implemented.

YANN: Sure, before we take some questions, where is Sun wealth in two years?

ABE: So, Sun wealth in two years is based out of Davis Square and Somerville mass and–

JOHN: Is that close to your house?

ABE: It’s within four miles in my house yeah, it’s mile walk and two t-stops some it’s great. And we are– we basically in two years we have funded including our pipeline close to 100 million dollars of deals and these include commercial and seeing ideals that range from projects with– we just finished two fire departments in upstate New York to small municipalities. We did a water treatment plan people are like, wow! That must’ve been a big project 170 kilowatts cover the entire load for that water treatment plan. We continue to grow our portfolio of houses of worship we’re now at about seven that’s probably in the 20s or 30s by then, we have a great relationship with Boston Properties, where they’ve gotten tired of issuing RFPs for essentially 100, 150 kilowatt projects and as long as we can meet their numbers they’ll continue to work with us, they have some great tenants.

We just finished the project on the Clarke Shoes headquarters on 128, using Panel Claw racking system out there. And, we are also starting to do what we call solar access. So, you know when you dig a little deeper the undeserved commercial solar market, you really have an undeserved solar market. That if you spend a little time you can figure out ways to finance. So, we’re doing a lot of low to moderate income homeowners and the way we are doing it, is that we are leasing their roofs, we’re putting a separate meter on for the solar project and we are giving them a percentage of the net metering credits generated by the project.

So, it simplifies the underwriting process, it gives them a guaranteed benefit in the project. Probably much better than they would get through a standard power purchase agreement and then we aggregate all the remaining net metering credits and we sell it to a credit worthy entities, such as the city of Somerville or someone like that. So, it’s reverse community solar almost, where we’ll have 25 projects and then a single off taker for all the power from those deals.

YANN: Interesting, so I appreciate your time John, just so that everyone knows, because I do talk to a lot of people in the space. The reason I wanted John to tell the story is, even though he’s targeting the C&I space, he might have the best terms on tax equity in the entire solar space and that includes the really large-scale developers and I’m hearing– this is what I’m hearing directly from tax equity investors. So, you know just because the market says one thing, doesn’t mean that if you have a good idea you can’t execute in a different way. A lot of people don’t achieve it, but at the end of the day you have and for that congratulations.

ABE: Thank you everyone.

[Applause]

E026: Future of Net Metering In Massachusetts with Senator Boncore, sponsor of the NEM Cap Bill

In this episode of energywakeup Yann is joined by Senator Boncore, the Massachusetts State Senator representing a large part of Boston and Cambridge. He is the sponsor of the net metering cap increase bill that would raise the cap by 5% across the board, clearing a large amount of backlog for SREC II projects.

Senator Boncore provides valuable insights on where the policy is going and how it may or may not progress. This interview was recorded at SolarWakeup Live Boston, which means that your competition that attended the event already has this valuable information.

Make sure to catch previous episode on your favorite podcast platform, episodes with

Mike Judge from Mass DOER

Jon Wellinghoff on the DOE NOPR

Sunpower’s Tom Werner are now available

Make sure to check out SolarWakeup Live! in D.C. on 12/6 and NYC late January.

If you enjoyed this episode as much as I did, make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher radio. Please subscribe and share with your friends how much EnergyWakeup is helping you.

YANN: So our first speaker Senator Joseph Boncore. This is his district, we are in his market. He represents Cambridge Winthrop. [inaudible 00:00:08] you are– either you are his customer or he is your customer, depending on if it’s election season or not Winthrop Revere and Boston senator Boncore has served on the Winthrop Housing Board, and was elected to the state Senate about 18 months ago in a special election. Most importantly, and the reason we have him here today is he’s the sponsor of Senate bill 1824, which raises the net metering cap by 5%. This is a vital aspect of the solar market and clearly something that we want to hear about the bill has not been signed by the governor yet and it hasn’t passed. But that is what we want to find out about. Welcome to solar wake up live senator.

SENATOR: Thank you, thank you for having me.

YANN: So, you have in front of you a nice crowd of what represents the Massachusetts solar market. And most importantly, these are the people that are running businesses. They would probably have a couple thousand jobs represented here of solar companies. You’re not on the Energy Committee, but yet you sponsored Senate, Senate bill 1824. Tell us the story of how that happened.

SENATOR: So, I am not in the energy committee I don’t have much of background in solar obviously you know as millennial, which I am, I can put myself in that category. It’s something I see some fellow Millennial’s here in the front row. It’s something that Millennial’s are definitely concerned about. I represent a district that encompasses, you know, it’s a very coastal district, so people in my district are very concerned with climate change things of that nature. But I also represent a very innovative district, where in my district, I represent all of Vinnie Street, I represent all of the financial district in downtown Boston, also part of my district.

So, these are two places where solar has kind of you know taking a lead. It’s obviously important to the district, not just I don’t have a lot of manufacturing, and I think you know, when we talk about solar, and on the legislative level, you know, we like to talk about manufacturing. But there’s so much more around innovation I think, and around obviously capital and financial, financial companies that are investing in solar. So as I would say, though I wasn’t a you know, you know, proponent so I believed in solar you know, my district, my life experience as a public defender, you know led me to a criminal justice background and to work on bills like that.

You know, my housing background led me to be, I’m now chair of the housing the Senate’s Housing Committee. But just looking at my district, the people I represent, the companies I represent, you know, and knowing the 2020 goals that we’re trying to get to here in Massachusetts, and how woefully inadequate we are in getting there or, where our track has been, I thought that solar was a was a good position for me to take and obviously, raising the net metering cap by 5% for public and private industry, is it’s going to help and get us to 2020 goals.

YANN: So, tell us where the bill stands now, where it goes from here and sort of some of the barriers that you’re encountering in the legislative process.

SENATOR: So, you know, I would say the bill as it currently stands I filed it in January, at the beginning of the session, we should all understand there’s over 2000 bills filed in the legislature. So that bill was reported to the Telecom utilities and Energy Committee short for TUE, if I reference that, that’s what it means, that’s shared by Senate Barrett on this, and the Senate side, and representative golden on the house side. So we were able to get the bill heard. So the bill was heard last month. So we’re rating the legislative process is that, after a bills reported out it will be– after it’s heard it’ll be reported out favorably or unfavorably, favorably by the committee, either way whatever wage reported out it will come back to the Senate.

I would say in Massachusetts the Senate has been the body of innovation technology and especially around solar, they’ve been the driving force in the legislature and some of these issues. So, I think we’re in a good spot where the bill will be ported hopefully you report it out and shorter order it’ll get over to the Senate, and after it’s to the Senate, we’ll put it to a vote, for all the Senators to vote on. Thereafter, it’ll go to the house. The biggest impediment that I see right now in the legislative process is that last year Massachusetts took up a pretty common–

Well, it started out as a very comprehensive, what we would call a legislative omnibus of energy policy. It got watered down, probably to a minibus by the time we took it up. But I would say that there was some net metering, some net metering legislation within that package. And where had Massachusetts, had typically relied 1% increases, and that metering, for the past somewhat years. Since net metering has become a common topic, this bill actually increased net metering by 3%. So, I would say the majors impact– the major impediment is to that legislators who are dealing with you know, two thousand other bills may not see the priority that we all see in this room.

Legislators from across the state who don’t represent innovative districts like I do or financial districts like I do, don’t see the problem or the necessity to raise a net metering cap. So you know, I think that’s on me in the legislature to bring that up. But it’s on everyone in this room to make sure that legislators across the Commonwealth are understanding that, when we raised it to 3% that just dealt with a lot of the backlog, the backlog projects that we have in Massachusetts, I mean in Massachusetts is more than 120 projects across the Commonwealth that in backlog. So if we raise enough metering cap again by 1%, we’re going to deal with the backlog. But we’re not moving the Commonwealth forward, so you know, we need to raise it to 5% to deal with some of that backlog and move on because when we have backlog, that means jobs for the Commonwealth.

That means, people aren’t working, Massachusetts employs over 15,000 people in your industry, this is something I don’t need to tell you, I know. But you know when people aren’t working when capital’s tied up, you know, you know that’s a real problem. Currently, with the 120 jobs, there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 72 million dollars tied up in capital investments that can’t come to fruition because of the net metering cap. Where it’s that, I mean, in overall the net metering capital, it makes about 6% of the state’s energy portfolio. So I think it’s you know, it’s time to bring the conversation to the next level.

YANN: So, given the fact that the solar market, in Massachusetts has 15,000 workers and real jobs right, I mean, solar now represents probably a job in every representative district and state Senate District, why do you think there’s still a lack of perceived power, political influence and political power in the solar industry when it comes to working the state legislative process?

SENATOR: I mean, again I mean you’re dealing with industry, other industries that have just been in the state legislature for so much longer. You know, and it’s a bandwidth issue. I mean, like I said, we deal with a lot of bills in the state legislature and you know, you guys your industry is relatively new to the Commonwealth and it’s you know, being there it’s being in front of us it’s activating a base. It’s letting not just the lobbyists and the activists know at the top levels, but letting the constituents know and getting the message all the way down.

So, legislators are dealing with this situation and talking about solar you know, there’s a perception you know, that Solar is intended for you know, a dentist who works in– who lives in a very high flew affluent community, and you know some people, most people I would say, you know who aren’t in the industry don’t realize that it can affect everybody. It affects you know, it’s not just a solar bill, but it’s a jobs bill. It’s an economic stimulus for the entire Commonwealth and it’s a–you know, there’s middle-income earners in solar as high-income earners and solar and it affects everybody, you know. When me and my staff are drafting this bill, I almost wanted to call it and that metering bill for the purpose of creating jobs. Because when you talk about creating jobs, I think it resonates with more legislators across the Commonwealth.

YANN: Is there you know kind of going on that topic? Is there a political risk for anyone that votes against your bill?

SENATOR: I would say so. I mean, I would say you know, I would say this is a political risk with certain demographics. When they don’t invest– when they don’t vote for the bill, I think with the rhetoric going on at the national level as to you know, what climate change is, what renewable energy is, I mean it’s on us at the local level to take up this mantle and I think in you know in California which probably leads the nation in solar development and investment and in Massachusetts which is second, I mean on those two coasts, I think any legislature not paying at any mind or being a void of what the real realities of not moving towards a renewable energy portfolio or strengthening that and having government influence, and making sure that that’s growing. I think that that any legislator who doesn’t– who would vote against raising it a mere 5% is taking a huge political risk.

YANN: So, you know the other side of the table you mentioned, the jobs and the job creation that this generates is that the people that are using solar energy in almost every project that I’ve been involved in and most of the room the consumer is also saving money. You served on a Housing Authority board and housing authorities have become one of the largest counter parties to solar projects. There’s still a perception that as you mentioned that this only helps the affluent dentist. From a– for those and I know there are some bills to also work on this issue, you know, what does it represent to middle and low income energy consumers when it comes to having access to more solar energy?

SENATOR: I mean I think you know they’re realizing it, I mean what are you talking about middle income earners, even low income earners, these are people who are not planning financially you know, and a lot of instances for the future. So, they don’t see an investment today oftentimes paying dividends tomorrow. And when you talk about housing authorities you know, in some housing authorities these people on subsidized housing who aren’t paying the energy bill, the housing authority in fact pays the energy bill.

And that’s why the public sector cap, is about 1% higher because the state sees it, but to get it to the end user is a different discussion. And I think when we start to talk about community solar and on the municipal level, you know changing ordinances and having a say at the municipal level in opening up solar farms, which would be very difficult in my district it’s obviously densely populated, but having some form of community solar, letting the end-user see in their energy bill what the real results are. You know I think we’re getting there, I think by the good work everyone here is doing and having a conversation like this, you know we’re getting it to where it should be going.

YANN: So, you know your bill covers net metering, but we have a parallel track going on in Massachusetts right now is smart. The DOER has finalized its rules and now it’s at the D P U. The, there is a combination of the two being that the parties that are trying to influence, maybe water down some of this policy is on both your bill as well as the D P U process currently. How powerful is the anti solar or the, I want to slow solar down legislative force in Massachusetts?

SENATOR: I mean, I think it’s you know when we’re talking about growth of an industry, obviously were taking away from another industry and an effect and I think that was the idea of you know meter capping, what we’re doing in that metering and also what smart growth. You know we’re trying– well smart growth is a little different. I don’t see smart growth directly related, I do see smart growth as a plan by the governor and the administration to ensure that incentives, you know weren’t so out of whack that the end user is the rate payer you know it wasn’t worthwhile anymore.

So kudos, to the governor and his administration for taking on this issue and I’m beginning to understand this issue. And that’s what– they’re going to do, what they’re going to do. They’re going to set up the regular– they set up the regulatory framework, they had to go through D P U, you know and as the governor does that, I think we can’t be complacent with that? I think we still need to have this conversation about raising the cap. I mean smart growth was a legislative initiative, to get the incentives back into whack and ensure that, you know the tax incentives were made sense now, that more people are using solar.

So, while that’s tracking, we still need to keep our eyes on the prize with net metering and raising that cap. So, I mean I do see them a little separate but I think you know listen, there to the original question, you know we are battling you know fossil fuel industry that that’s been very powerful. I think Massachusetts does have an advantage with local activist groups and people who have stepped up and kind of you know taken on that cause, so it’s at all levels of government people are having that conversation.

YANN: If you were to look back and I mean Massachusetts I don’t know the numbers second or third biggest solar market now definitely on a per capita basis nationally, especially outside of California, solar industry kind of there’s California and there’s X California. How would you view the progress that Solar has made over the past five or so years and what kind of advice would you give to the solar market and solar advocates, on how they can continue to improve in both legislative messaging and market penetration?

SENATOR: I mean seeing we are the number two market for solar growth in the country, I think Massachusetts has made incredible strides. Massachusetts has a 2020 goal of getting to 1600 megawatts of solar energy on the grid and I think so, where I think comparatively to other states you know, we’re really on the cutting edge. As we are on most things, I like to say so, I think in the past five years just setting goals, having goals and making the investments. We have five billion in investments in solar energy in Massachusetts, you know comparatively per capita or otherwise that’s really big.

I think the advice to– my advice to solar energy is you know this is an easy conversation for the senator from Boston and Cambridge to have because I have financial institutions in my district, I have innovative institutions right here we’re in one of them you know. I think as we talk to other legislators, we need to change a little bit of the rhetoric on how we’re talking about. We need to make sure that you know it is jobs we’re talking about, its development, its economic development and when we grow solar in a responsible way, you know that it’s not us first Sam, it’s not versus first, fossil fuels but it’s growing in a way that it’s going to bring down the cost to the end-user in the Berkshires if a solar farms built out there. And it’s really very much making it a local issue I think in government it’s something that’s lost.

I think it’s something that’s starting to come ahead now, with kind of the lack of work going on in Washington DC in Congress and with the executive branch. But you know making it a local issue and letting know the end user from all across the Commonwealth is going to see you know their pocketbooks hit or not hit or you know and making sure that people, everyone has access to solar. And it’s not just for the dentist from Lexington Massachusetts, it’s for you know– the middle income earner and the Berkshires or Springfield or Wooster. I think moving the rhetoric that way it’s just going to help the entire market from the top down.

YANN: So, there’s an ongoing movement in the solar industry to engage more of our– I mean there’s 270,000 people now working in the solar industry in the US. And there’s an ongoing push to try to get some of them to run for public office. I don’t think there are any solar professionals in the state legislature here now, but what would you– what kind of advice would you give to you know to someone that wanted to run for office to move certain things forward? And given some of your background and your expertise and the work you’re doing in criminal justice based on your background. How valuable is it to have a member of the legislature that has some domain expertise and can have the conversation you’re saying without sort of the advocates in the room?

SENATOR: Yeah, I mean it I think it’s you know it’s incredibly beneficial to have you know somewhat of an expert in the room. You know, just last week the Senate took up criminal justice reform. You know, I’ve been in the Senate for 18 months, there are people who have been in the Senate for 30 years you know I had more to say and more influence on that bill than probably any other senator in the room, just because of my background and experience. So, to have someone familiar with the industry, like I said before I wasn’t familiar with the industry, I have this one issue and that metering that I’m happy to champion and carry because it makes good sense to me. But beyond that to get into the weeds on this some of this stuff, you know I would encourage someone from the industry to run you know.

Hopefully not against me, so I want to be very clear with that, no but even, if you did run against me, you know you know elections are a good place to bring out these issues and press the issues. And you know even if you don’t win, you make sure that your opponent or the person you’re running against for that seat, you know has an idea of what’s going on. You really press them you bring them up to speed, as it will go. So, I would say that experts in the industry, as long as you’re that’s not the only reason you’re running and as long as you’re not so much of an ideologue around it. That you’re not able to work with others to get to a goal, because we can’t in this country and in the state you know let good be the evil of perfect right?

We got to be able to get there and we got to get to good. I mean this makes a lot of sense for everybody in the room to get to 5%, probably makes a lot of sense of everybody in this room to get to 10%. But we need to work in a collaborative way and to ensure that everyone in the Common wealth is heard and dealt with and it’s a process. And ideologues typically don’t make the best legislators; because they’re a little too you know they’re not pragmatic about getting to a solution. So– but expertise in the legislature, because of the bandwidth of legislators and the fact that there’s 2,000 bills right there, that we’re dealing with this session, I mean some expertise in an area will truly you know you’ll be a legislator on such ago.

YANN: So, a) were you surprised when Sia– I mean the way I found out about this bill is Sia last month wrote a press release saying, “Massachusetts needs to step up and pass your bill.” And so that kind of got some national attention on the issue. And you know how helpful was that and handicapped the forward progress, because the worst thing in the solar industry is the uncertainty. When you don’t know if you can make an investment to hire someone or when you’re looking at a customer in the eye and say I don’t know what the value of the net metering will be, that hurts and that stops progress and investment. Handicap for us how this looks going forward.

SENATOR: I mean, I think with the national recognition it’s gotten and with the local recognition, I hope you will all still push for, you know it looks pretty good. I mean there is an understanding with certain members of TUE, the telecoms utilities an Energy Committee that I talked to, that this needs to be done. So, I’d say those people who are in the trenches with this bill and the hundreds of other bills that just that committees dealing with, they understand that something has to be done. I can speak to the Senate President Stan Rosenberg, he knows we need to raise the cap. He knows that doing what we’re doing is just helping some of the backlog and not garnering further investment, further capital, further job growth in the Commonwealth.

So, I’d say there are people that understand it, but not everyone does it’s not a priority for everyone and I think it’s, you know we need to get it down to the level of each individual legislature in the Commonwealth. Their constituents need to be talking about this as a priority. Their constituents need to see the benefit of the job growth of solar being really, for everyone, for every level of income earner and they need to see the progress that can be made with what solar.

So, I’d say the bill will look really good coming out of the Senate. I would say in decamp it very high coming out of the senate and then as we as it gets further down the process and over to the house, we’re going to need a bigger push on that under.

YANN: Any of you on timing of when you think this could happen?

SENATOR: Again, I’m not on the committee, so I can’t even speak that when it will be reported out. You know I’m happy I’ve written and my staff has written letters to see that it’s reported out after the hearing, but our legislative cycle goes through next July. So, I you know I would expect it to come out of it to at least be debated on the floor before that.

YANN: Okay, so a little bit on a federal issue and because we know that you have the year of the president there the trade—

SENATOR: The senate president?

YANN: [laughter] No, the other guy. The trade commission, early this morning voted for recommendation to increase the cost of solar panels by about 35%, in what some would dub a protectionist move brought on by some players in the solar market.

SENATOR: I would agree with those people.

YANN: Which ones?

SENATOR: The protectionist.

YANN: Yeah, the protectionist and what message would you– so now the president’s going to decide if there should be increased costs of solar modules. What would you say to the president, what the impact of that might be to your constituents and the folks that you’re talking to in the solar market here in Massachusetts and the taxpayers given that this would have an impact across the board?

SENATOR: What would I say to the president? That’s an interesting question [laughter]. But in this realm and then we’re adding solar what I would say to him is that, in Massachusetts we’re doing a lot to grow solar in a responsible way. To make sure that the end user, the rate payer is seeing the benefit of solar. I would tell this president that, this protectionist move and this ruling is not going to benefit solar. Making solar more expensive to people is going to stymie growth and we can’t have this stymie of growth.

You know, this is one place where if foreign markets are creating you know a similar product for less money at this time and at this special time and growing this economy forward, that we need to keep costs low to grow the industry. We need if we– if investors I mean if finance companies are seeing that it’s too expensive to do it, I mean there’s other places they can spend this money, there’s other places they will spend this money. Solar growth in this Commonwealth and across this nation is what we need to do for future generations.

So, I would advise against it, I’m sure he would tweet something at me on the other end that was unrelated and something probably about me personally. But, I would certainly advise against it and let him know that, you know an investment in solar is an investment in our future.

YANN: So, I want to thank you for your leadership, I join everyone in the room to wish for your success in this especially this bill.

SENATOR: Our success.

YANN: Our success or your success to make us more successful and please give a round of applause for the senator [Applause].

E025: SMART Program In Massachusetts and How Regulators View 201 Petition Risk with Mike Judge

On the 14th of November, DOER released the RFP for the initial block of the much anticipated SMART program. The timing of the release was cause of many questions considering the shadows of the 201 petition which could affect the price of solar in Massachusetts. SolarWakeup covered many of these questions with Mike Judge, Director of Renewable Energy at DOER, during last month’s SolarWakeup Live! in Boston.

Full Transcript Below. (While we attempt to make it verbatim, it may miss a few words)

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Make sure to check out SolarWakeup Live! in D.C. on 12/6 and NYC late January.

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Trancript:

YANN: [00:00:00] Want to thank Mike judge from DOER for coming today, I am sure if you are in the solar industry in Massachusetts you know Mike and you know Mike’s work. Your work kind of depends on him doing his job. He is a director of renewable & alternative energy at DOER, he’s been at DOER for seven years so he knows the SREC program and he knows how to administer it. Also at MASSCEC, you’ve managed the solar carve out of the RPS amongst other things but now most recently you have been the leader in developing the rules of the SMART program. You finalized those rules but because it’s a tariff as we know it, the DPU, which has released some draft language, can you talk about where the process stands and what you make of the process so far?

MIKE: [00:00:57] Absolutely so the DOER, the legislation was passed last April, requiring the DOER to create new solar programs. We started working on that last summer, we had some listening sessions, we put out the draft proposal in the fall, final proposal in the late winter or mid-winter and we issued our regulations, promulgated those in August. So now DOER’s part here is almost done with components are which I can talk about in a minute but now the model tariff has been filed by the distribution companies jointly filed at the DPU and they are kicking off that proceeding, we had a deadline to intervene, several interveners, several people intervening with their granted status today and then there was procedural conference and a public hearing last week and so right now we are waiting for them to advertise the procedural schedule for the remainder of the proceeding. Don’t know exactly what they are going to do next but we did ask at the conference where they try to aim for first order date and set up a schedule accordingly so that the transition to occur hopefully spring of next year.

YANN: [00:02:13] So speaking of the transition, what is the main goal in the transition going to SREC to SMART?

MIKE: [00:02:20] I think there is a few things, the biggest one I would say is trying to create certainty and bring cost savings to ratepayers. One of the benefits of SREC its different than other states is we did actually have a good job of mitigating some of the risks, our auction mechanisms and SREC values remain high but financiers still would take very, there’s a steep discount that you’d have to take when you are selling things over a long term contract. So in some cases we’ll have taking 50% of the SREC value and the problem with that from a rep air stand point is that you are still paying 100% and so when you have an SREC that’s worth 100 dollars and someone buys it a hundred and fifty and selling it back for three hundred dollars, the generator, the owner of the facility or the developer of the facility is only getting 150 but their financial backer is getting the 150 as you are paying that. So by moving to a tariff, we can create financial certainty and you can have transactions between the utility and owner of the facility which removes a lot of that soft costs and financial costs.

YANN: [00:03:37] So talk a little bit about the process and the involvement of the industry to get to the final rules.

MIKE: [00:03:46] Yeah so we tried to really be as inclusive as possible throughout the process and so we had these initial listening sessions at the same time we were conducting some analytical work on the necessary incentive values, that was last summer and then we put out the straw proposal, collected feedback on the industry, got over 600 pages of comments on the straw proposal, 250 sets of individual comments and lots of feedback from stakeholders and then we convened a number of working groups. So we reached out to the major associations in all sorts of different stake holder groups and ask them to appoint representatives to a working group by either there’s five working groups and so they’re established on different components of the program and they about 40 pounds over the course of the fall. All different types of people, land use advocates, small solar developers, large solar developers and low income advocates, you take utilities, the attorney general’s office and the product of that was our final proposal which we then took some additional informal comments on and then we had the formal rule making another 100 sets of comments and feedback from stake holders there and that’s when well get to the final rule. So I’d like to think its been an open and transparent process where we’ve tried to solicit as much input from the general public as possible but now there is still one final process left where we are focused more on the mechanics of the program then the policy.

[00:05:32] Some important questions of the policies as we enter into that mechanics discussion but the eligibility criteria, the process of establishing incentives, all that’s really been established by the regulators.

YANN: [00:05:43] So one of the major attributes of the SMART program verses pretty any other solar programs around the country, it looks like you are really working to encourage solar projects to include energy storage; why did you choose the two kind of matrix, two kind of Y axis of percentage of capacity to solar plus number of hours?

MIKE: [00:06:15] So earlier in the Baker administration we launched the energy storage and it’s a 10 million dollar initiative, the majority of that fund is going towards administration projects and those administration projects will actually be awarded soon but the first component of that was comprehensive study on the benefits and the used cases of energy storage in Massachusetts and we found that there is tremendous for all sorts of different used cases for energy storage and there was a series of recommendations that came out of that and one of them was averaging the solar program to include solar plus storage. As we develop more solar regs 1600 megawatts DC and this will be another 1600 megawatts AC. So collectively when SMART is done, we will have probably somewhere between 2200 and 3500 megawatts AC of solar capacity in Massachusetts, nearly 95% or more that’s going to be on the distribution system too and then so that all acts as load reducer and when you have that much solar on the system, you really starting to see it very reminiscent of California, you see it today there’s a little bit of one today in the spring of this year, it was really very dramatic.

[00:07:42] So we really need to have battery storage or some way to mitigate that and we saw this was really like a tremendous opportunity to incorporate storage from the get go because it makes more sense to have storage upfront when you are building these products rather than being retrofitting it, it’s more expensive to do it after the fact so just pair them upfront. As far as to why we structure the incentive that way with its looking at the ratio of storage capacity to solar capacity and the duration of the storage, that was done primarily because of the results of the energy storage which showed that the shorter term to medium term storage with the generally sized, approximate size to the facility is compared was going to provide the best benefits to repairs and actually if you look at that chart, as you move to longer duration or higher capacity, there is a diminishing increase in the amount of incentive that the facility has received and that reflects that same thing. It’s really a sweet spot in the 2 to 4 hour and sized to the 25-60% of the solar capacity and that’s reflected in the benefits that we identified in the storage study.

YANN: [00:09:08] So talking about the mechanics of the next step of the SMART program, how much more can you do under your guidance at this point before the DPU issues the final order things like, hosting the auction, the initial auction or participating in the DPU process kind of give some guidance on things that maybe you were silent on but have an opinion on now that’s there is language around us.

MIKE: [00:09:42] I think there’s still a fair amount that we can do. So the two big things that are left on our plate are the roll out of the program and being able to do the intake of application so we have solar program administrator, the distribution company’s choice who solicited for that summer. They’ve made their selection, they’ll be executing that contract possibly this week and so there’ll be an announcement on who that entity is and then the RFP for the initial competitive procurement, that’s drafted and we are first working on details with them so that should be going out soon and those are the two really kind of big items that DOER is doing, we also have to build the application platform, make sure it’s working, get the website up and running, do a lot of outreach and stakeholder communications and then plan for that transition but in addition to that we are full intervener and the DPU proceedings, we plan on providing comments and filing briefs, asking discovery questions we’ll be active with on that proceeding, not clear if we are going to issue sponsor testimony and put up a witness and that proceeding is resolved but we plan on being involved and there are certain things that are in the tariff that are not expressly called for in the reg.

[00:11:08] An example would be the utilities cost recovery mechanism. So I’ll state just very briefly there the proposal is a fixed charge cost recovery and there are some details and mechanics of that. DOER will likely pick a position from that, I don’t know what that position is going to be this time, I can’t really speak to that but we’ll be participating in that proceeding and taking a stand on what we think cost recovery mechanism looks like.

YANN: [00:11:41] Speaking about the auction right? because you could that’s obviously everyone wants to know what the clearing price is going to be from a development standpoint but we also have this pending federal issue with the 201 petitions happening, we’re module prices can be double what they are today.

MIKE: [00:11:54] Yeah.

YANN: [00:11:55] How do you, can you have an auction before the 201 is resolved?

MIKE: [00:12:00] So I’ve spent a fair amount of time, I’ve asked this question a lot of people and the consensus generally seems to be that yes, there’s no reason to delay, we should we should put something out there is obviously some uncertainty lingering out there and I think we’re watching it very closely. The timing of the release of the RFP is actually maybe fortunate that it’s coming out a week or two later than we originally envisioned because now people will have full visibility until at least what’s recommended by the ITC and that we will be making final announcements on the result of it potentially after the White House makes a decision on what they’re going to do and we can take that into account to some extent, I think as regulators, state regulators, we try to not design our policy around what may or may not happen at the federal level because it’s hard, it’s really hard to do that and when you have sort of optionality things that might go one way or the other that’s challenging. That being said, we do have the ability to make changes to the program if necessary. So there’s something really drastic happened, it’s our reg, we can open that reg, not saying we want to I don’t think that’s you know, that’s no one wants us to do that really you know, you we don’t open regulations without careful consideration but we can take appropriate action if necessary. So we’re watching it closely, I think we’re going to run the procurement, hopefully people will be able to understand at least what their what the potential outcomes are at the time they’re submitting bits but yeah we’re well aware.

YANN: [00:13:38] But do you see you know because this is a clearing price right? There’s there there’s both financial modeling as well as strategy.

MIKE: [00:13:49] Yeah.

YANN: [00:13:50] I mean people are going to be bidding what maybe gets them below the highest clearing price. So you know maybe they don’t want their number but they’re hoping to be under the clear, clearing price number you know, what if I assume a modest whatever you know, maybe I’ll take today’s ITC recommendation and model that into my number but someone says you know what I’m not modeling any of that and maybe there’s enough of those people that unrealistically bid into the system and then all of a sudden the White House comes out with double the ITC’s amount right? I mean do you see a scenario where maybe you’d say you know what there was too much uncertainty and we have to issue another RFP?

MIKE: [00:14:39] Well we do routine the flexibility in the Reg to do a couple things, the Reg allows us to determine whether or not there was a non-competitive result, we can issue of additional solicitations. We can also administratively set prices so I think we’re sort of in a wait-and-see, let’s see what we get, let’s see what happens, let’s see how it plays out and then we can, we have some ability and flexibility to make decisions and modifications to a certain degree but if things are that really kind of dramatic impacts, then we can take further action as well if necessary.

YANN: [00:15:16] So when do you see the RFP being issued?

MIKE: [00:15:20] I’m hesitant to give like a firm date but I’d say in the next two weeks (October 31st – November 13th) or so, like it’s very it’s well developed and we’re working, it’s high priority for us.

YANN: [00:15:32] So let’s speak about some of the dynamics you know, solar advocates are coming back and saying listen, the block one makes sense. Block one there’s a clearing price, everyone under the price gets that price and then the feedback is well after that, it moves to an average, it takes that it takes the mean of the initial bids and works down from there. Which from their standpoint can be skewed if there is a wide range of bits, what do you think about that feedback and do you think there’s a fix for a process?

MIKE: [00:16:08] Yeah, so part of the reason we went that way is that there was some concern that there would be a lack of participation in the initial procurement. If people could just wait for block one and get the same rate as they could have gotten in the procurement, then a lot of people would just opt-out and just wait and see what happens but by setting the block one rate at the clearing of the marginal clearing price, then you’re sort of guaranteeing anyone who participates in that initial procurement is going to get a higher base compensation rate than anyone who waits for block one. That being said, people in block one can also take advantage of adders and other, they can be alternative on bail credit, they can mean that metering facilities, they don’t have to be a qualifying facility. So there’s some advantages to waiting to but I think that you know, there are again opportunities for DOER to make modifications to the final procurement results. If you, I’m going to throw in an extreme example here, if we saw a bid come in at one penny kilowatt hour, obviously that’s probably not a very realistic bid and that’s not something that someone can actually achieve if that was the clearing price, DOER does have the flexibility to say this was not necessarily competitive or administrative least set the price you know, I don’t know that we would take this action, I think we want to wait and see and reserve our judgment but we could say, we’ll count, we’ll set the average but we’re not going to count that one set bit in setting the average. So I think, we are hoping then nothing like that happens, we’re hoping that people are responsible and bid in what they actually need but we’re watching it closely.

YANN: [00:17:51] How do you, how do you get you know, you’re going to have, I mean some would argue that any project in the SMART program is going to have energy storage associated with it you know, many people say that these days. Energy storage prices are dropping and this will be a way to increase the return of the project. So having energy storage is just going to make financial sense for investors to participate in, you’re going to have all of this dispatchable resource, not dispatchable but not just energy but also capacity, how do you get the distribution companies and utilities to take this energy and take this power and participate in the market? Because you know it does give them some flexibility to but they’re not required to.

MIKE: [00:18:47] Well this is this with respect to capacity rights and ownership or the energy?

YANN: [00:18:56] The value of that.

MIKE: [00:18:57] So there’s actually some long-standing precedent on the net metering side in Massachusetts for the utilities taking ownership of the energy. So any energy that’s exported back onto the grid they take title to and then they sell that back into the market. They actually install the interval meters on these systems and they register the assets in ISO England, most solar generators don’t even know that they’re doing this behind the scenes and offsetting the costs of the net metering program through that. So I’d expect that would work the same way and SMART for the energy side of things. Capacity is a bit more of an open-ended question right now and I’d be hesitant to kind of offer a position on it because I don’t think the or air has a formal position that we’ve worked out yet. What I will say is that it’s been raised as a top issue of the proceeding by a number of people with me and there are two dockets actually at the TP right now, there’s one on net metering and capacity rights and then there’s SMART, which is going to have to deal with this as well and in the net metering rules in 2009 order, where a lot of the net metering rules were established, the DP said that the utilities have, are allowed to take title to the capacity in order to avoid offsetting it.

[00:20:12] They didn’t direct them to enroll in the markets and actually do something with it, they didn’t require them to take title and I think that’s the question that’s at hand, should that be firmed up and I think the same question will apply in SMART and the DPU has aligned those proceedings, I haven’t talked to them about this or anything but it seems as though they’ve outline those proceedings so that they’re happening coincident with one another and that they can issue sort of a unified approach to how this is all going to be settled going forward.

YANN: [00:20:41] Do you see potentially this discussion including the rights to dispatch the assets?

MIKE: [00:20:48] It could, I don’t know exactly what the utilities position will be, I think this is all going to get fleshed out in in discovery, in the discovery phase of the proceeding when intervenors are asking questions of the utilities, there’s going to be a lot of questions asked about what is your intent regarding the capacity? How do you intend to participate in these markets? How do you intend to offset the costs and it’ll be interesting to see what their perspectives are because I think that will probably inform a lot of the intervenors positions when they actually file testimony and briefs later on? That’s why I’m a little hesitant to say what DRS position is because I’m not entirely sure.

YANN: [00:21:26] But it’s an interesting sort of thesis right? If one party has the rights to the capacity, especially on energy storage integrated systems but they don’t own title of the actual asset therefore can’t dispatch, they wouldn’t be able to bid the capacity and to market without knowing.

MIKE: [00:21:47] No, it’s a tough question, it’s not I’m glad I don’t have to grapple with it at the DPU you buy we can just offer an opinion and they but yeah it’s, I think it is to me from the feedback I’ve received on the tariff as filed, this seems to be the top issue for, top concern among the solar industry this and the cost recovery mechanism and there’s a lot of other smaller issues and a lot of other people in intervenors in the proceeding who have a specific thing a specific item they want to address but as far as kind of issues that affect everybody that all intervenors I expect will comment on, I think these are two of two of them.

YANN: [00:22:30] What’s the fairest criticism the solar industries offered about the rules this far?

MIKE: [00:22:36] I suppose that there’s some complexity to them, that I think you know DEOR ours never really shied away from complexity. I do think it is a big shift from where we have been historically and but I think the industries, I think it’s less complicated than people think it may be once we kind of dig into it and that what it does really does is it creates a lot more options for business models. It levels the playing field between qualifying facilities and net metering, it creates this alternative to net metering in the event that that metering caps, it gives sort of a fixed price rec contract for behind the meter facilities, it has all these different adders. So I think it at first glance there’s just a lot getting thrown at you and it takes a little while to sort it out but people seem to be finding their niche like this is what, this is the market I want to serve, this is the types of projects I want to build, this is how the business models going to work and I think once people kind of get their arms around it will start to make sense but if definite, I definitely recognize there’s a lot of moving parts and it is a lot of new things and it definitely challenges people to kind of rethink how they’ve been doing business.

YANN: [00:23:58] So another critique of the DPU rules, which I’m sure you probably because you mentioned finance ability is that some of the draft language kind of makes it seem easy to cancel a contract or cancel might be the wrong word, how important is the bank ability of a SMART project for DOER?

MIKE: [00:24:27] I think it’s very important, I mean that’s really what we’re trying to create here is certainty and price certainty, revenue certainty to the generators and cost certainty to ratepayers you know what you’re getting for a revenue stream ratepayers, know what they’re paying over the life of the project and that’s, that hasn’t been the case with net metering and extracts, both of those are volatile, uncapped well that’s right kind of the cap with the ACP rate but they’re volatile streams and prices and costs for those programs can shift dramatically from year to year. This program is pretty, when something, when a project gets locked in you know what they’re going to get paid and just to be clear, I would say that the it isn’t a DPU rule, it’s the utilities proposed tariff but the, in that tariff I know there’s some concerns about some of the language around, their ability to cancel things. I think some of that is intended to just be sort of pro forma from their part certainly I think wording matters and the details, those details will be fleshed out but there a lot of the eligibility criteria for participating in the program itself, that all sits with DEOR and those final decisions will be made by DEOR.

[00:25:43] These are I think those are more tariff enrollment terms, there’s some specific things that you’re required to do as participating the tariff that could result in a cancellation and I think all that it’s going to have to be washed out.

YANN: [00:25:55] Do you do you worry as you add you know, you mentioned you know 1,600 megawatts AC of solar in the state, naturally as you add more solar to the grid, more infrastructure will have to be built and many times solar developers will end up having to build new infrastructure substations etc. Things that cost millions of dollars, do you worry that over time the cost of having to build up the infrastructure goes counter to the fact that the revenue streams are going down over time?

MIKE: [00:26:31] Absolutely, I mean I’ve heard a lot of, that’s another concern I think of people is interconnection costs seem to be going the opposite direction in many cases and I think storage can help mitigate some of that but and you know there’s maybe work that needs to be done on the interconnection side of things at some point as well. The, but that is definitely a concern of ours and we did build into the program review, I can’t remember how many megawatts, after a certain amount of megawatts are reserved, we will conduct a review and potentially make changes if necessary. So if things are going slow, if one market segment isn’t really picking up, if one utilities service territory is lagging behind, we can step in and modify our rules to see if we can kind of adjust that accordingly and get things back on track. So we’ll definitely be watching intricate, we watch interconnection and monitor it very closely.

YANN: [00:27:31] What kind of advice can you give other states right because you know, as a lot of people have been in the weeds here and maybe they think it’s too complex. There’s no doubt that Massachusetts continues to make forward strides in growing its solar market whereas other states are not right? I mean the and it’s not like you have this supermajority from a political standpoint you know, it’s a diverse state politically and you know what kind of, what are you, are you speaking with other states about crafting language? What kind of advice are you giving them and why do you think other states that could be doing something like this, are falling short?

MIKE: [00:28:15] It’s hard for me to kind of speak as to why they might be I mean I think one thing that we’ve done is, we’ve haven’t let perfect be the enemy the good sometimes I mean, I so our programs are complex but we also just kind of really, we put something out there and the goal is to get projects in the ground, let’s get things built and then we’ll learn from our mistakes and then adjust accordingly in the future. If you spend too much time on the front end trying to craft the perfect policy and then you put something out and it doesn’t really work, I think that there’s been some states that have seen that happen, we do talk to other states and especially a lot of our neighboring states. There’s been a lot of interest in some of the land-use stuff that we’re doing among East Coast states, that is a part of our program that you know we sit under the Secretariat of Energy and Environmental Affairs. So when projects get cited on farmland or on a wetland or near a wetland, then that impacts some of our sister agencies and there were all answering to the same secretary so he hears it from those agencies and it was a very important thing for him that the, that our Paul is, our solar incentive policies were in alignment with our environmental and agricultural policies so we spent a lot of time and effort crafting that and a lot of states have taken notice, spend time on the phone with Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, who similarly smaller East Coast states with not a lot of land and but the ambitious goals trying to build solar and they’re trying to grapple with how do we match our environmentally in our energy policy?

[00:29:53] So yeah, I mean, I guess advice other states, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good, listen the stakeholders and try to be as inclusive as as many business models as possible because Solar is complicated. Every project is different and there’s all sorts of different types of solar projects and solar companies and you got to try to find a way to be as inclusive as possible.

YANN: [00:30:18] Speaking of stakeholders and advocates you know, maybe you’re not going to give criticism but give some feedback to solar advocates on how to improve the language you know, I asked us the same question to Senator bond Cory this morning you know, how do we get, why we in this net metering fight again and you know with no foresight on when that will get resolved but give some feedback to the other side of the table that are asking you for things and how can they improve their messaging, when they’re trying to get something from you?

MIKE: [00:31:00] Well I will say that I think the solar community of Massachusetts has done a great job over the last few years of getting a more cohesive message and being more on the same page. A few years back, I think a lot of fractures kind of emerged where you had different sectors of the industry sort of arguing against one another, there was a bill back in 2014.

YANN: [00:31:28] Or 41, 85 yeah.

MIKE: [00:31:29] And there was a lot of internal debates and it was, I think surprising to the administration at the time in the legislature to watch the solar industry have infighting amongst each other and I think there’s been a lot of good work done since then but it’s still not perfect, I mean you have a lot of different voices to the extent that people can speak with one voice, I think that’s very helpful. I know that’s not always know is easy to do and actually in the DPU proceedings SIA has intervened on behalf of a number of associations so there’s not different associations participating in that proceeding, there’s only one voice and I think that will be helpful for the industry to not have conflicting messages being sent to the DPU about what solar is looking for out of that. I know that could be very difficult though, I think that’s probably the biggest thing I would I would say and because I know legislators have said this to me too that, it seems like they don’t get the same message from solar stakeholders, like one group wants one thing one, wants another thing they’re all saying they want net metering cap increases but they all say something different,  they say it in a different way or say something different and it’s just, they don’t live and breathe this every day.

[00:32:47] So they spend a lot less time thinking about this than I do or the people at DOER do and so when they hear conflicting things, I think it just confuses them and they say well, we’re not going to deal with that so do the extent you can unify that message that’s really helpful.

YANN: [00:33:06] How important is it to your success that the net metering caps are increased?

MIKE: [00:33:12] Well I think that we have tried in the SMART program to ensure that net metering caps being increased are not a barrier to the success of the program. That’s why we’ve created the alternative on bill credit, that’s why we’ve allowed for a mechanism that would level the playing field a bit between net metering facilities and qualifying facilities because in today’s environment, it being qualifying facility doesn’t make a lot of sense Massachusetts. If you have SRECs in the QF rate, you’re just making a lot less money than someone who has SRECs net metering but Nitor SMART it’s not as much of a difference between those two and I think we’ve tried to ensure that continued increase of net metering caps is not critical to the program success because that was a major barrier for SRECs net metering caps weren’t raised, then S trucks weren’t going to get built whereas traditionally wouldn’t get built and all right so I don’t think it is as critical to the success of the SMART program as it was to the success of the asteroid program but certainly we remain engaged in that.

YANN: [00:34:23] Discussion, do you have a handicap of your expectation for the net metering cap increase?

MIKE: [00:34:30] That’s on well we’re just between friends.

YANN: [00:34:32] Yeah. So with that I want to thank Mike for joining us today.