Letter to the Editor: Ruban’s Call To End Solar Tariff Wrong For Belmont

To the editor: 

Belmont is on track to have the most successful solarization campaign in Massachusetts. This is the result of the solar tariff and buyback policy adopted unanimously last year by the Board of Selectmen, acting as the Light Board. The policy has been highly praised by some of the most committed solar energy advocates in town.

The hallmark of the new tariff, after years of debate, is fairness. It provides a large incentive to install solar panels. The return on this investment is likely to be in the 14 percent to 18 percent range, and is virtually risk-free. Try to match that anywhere else in the world today. At the same time, it is equitable to the other Belmont residents who cannot or wish not to install solar, for whatever reason. It is equitable because the tariff will result in a modest payment to Belmont Light to help cover the cost of the local distribution system that is still needed by every solar host. This system is only paid for by local residents and other Belmont Light customers.

As the chair of Belmont’s Temporary Net Metering Task Force, I helped design the tariff.  I am proud that it resolved a very divisive policy problem efficiently and fairly and has already led to more than 120 new solar hosts. I am in fact one of those new solar users. 

So I was very surprised to hear Alexandra Ruban state in the League of Women Voters’ Candidate Forum last night [Wednesday, March 30] that she wishes to end the solar tariff. Instead, she wants to impose a different policy called “full retail net metering” that is not fair to Belmont as whole at all.  Her proposal would give an even larger payment to the solar hosts, even though it is obviously not necessary because they have already chosen to install solar under the current plan. Her policy would also drastically reduce or even eliminate the modest contribution by solar hosts to cover the cost of the local distribution system.  

This is all the more surprising because Ruban also said last night that she wants to save money for the town. Then why pay a windfall to the new and existing solar hosts?  That windfall just has to be made up by other residents. That is unfair and brings us back to the divisive debate that we were able to end last year.

Roy Epstein

Cushing Avenue

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  1. Roy J Epstein says

    For readers new to the Belmont solar tariff discussion, the tariff for new solar hosts that was approved by Jim Williams, Mark Paolillo, and Sami Baghdady (the Light Board) last fall is almost the same as the proposal put forward by Claus Becker last spring.

    Our working group reviewed a large number of studies last summer. The tariff that was approved pays solar hosts significantly more than at least one of the tariffs recommended by the Sustainable Belmont July 2014 report by Alix van Geel, Roger Wrubel, and David Schlissel.

  2. Anne Mahon says

    Belmont wasn’t able to get solar companies to install in Belmont until a large group of outraged citizens literally campaigned for years to get this past the Selectman and light board. Personally, I’d completely given up because I thought the back burner was where it would stay since that’s how I’m used to Belmont government going, but this large group of climate change believers actually caused a crack in the door, influenced solar companies to come back for another review, got non political community leaders involved, and now we have well over 100 houses signed up for solar. It’s a good thing and I love that Alexandra Ruban, our green candidate, “gets it!” Let’s get off the “wait till they get worn down platform” and catch up to the rest of the country, can we boyz?

    • Roy J Epstein says

      Hi Anne, not sure if you actually read the report of the Temporary Net Metering working group, but a community based solarization campaign was one of our strongest recommendations:

      “The Light Board is urged to organize a “Solarize Belmont” campaign immediately…..
      It is recommended that the solarize campaign should involve BL and all interested citizen groups and residents. Retaining a consultant such as Sagewell, which has already done a good deal of work for BL in Belmont, is also recommended for receiving guidance in making a solarization campaign successful.”

      The Light Board acted right away by asking Roger Colton to head up this effort with the Energy Committee.

      The success of the solarization campaign reflects the prompt and sincere efforts of many different people in town.

  3. Claus Becker TMM 5 says

    There is nothing fair about the tariff that Roy Epstein designed. He was appointed to a committee that had a majority of people who were already on record as being hostile to solar energy. They went on to “analyze” the situation ignoring that actual experts have performed a proper analysis more than two dozen times, including for Maine and Massachusetts, and almost always concluded that Net Metering is not only fair to rate payers but that solar host subsidize their neighbors! This is due to the moderating influence on electricity prices that results from supplying energy during times of high demand. The benefits to solar hosts come primarily from MA state programs that Belmont does not support and Federal tax credits. The net result of Mr Epstein’s efforts is to confiscate income flowing from outside of Belmont to our citizens and hand it to town government.

  4. says

    The new tariff has allowed a successful solarize campaign because the rest of Massachusetts, unlike Belmont, cares about renewable energy. I ask Roy Epstein, and the other 120 new solar customers, who they think are paying for the SRECs that make their brand new solar panels such a good deal. The answer is ratepayers in areas served by the Investor Owned Utilities. If the rest of Massachusetts had policies like Belmont there would be no solar or wind power in the state. If the rest of the world had policies like Belmont the world is in big trouble. We never needed a tariff different from the rest of Massachusetts. We needed and still need a comprehensive renewable energy policy like the rest of Massachusetts has. We live in a town that doesn’t care about renewable energy in a state that cares a lot. That is what new solar owners should remember as they enjoy their “good deal” on their panels.

  5. Sue says

    Poor Roy, He’s still trying to get his facts straight. He did a adequate job considering he knows next to nothing about renewable energy. Everyone agrees the current tariff is marginally OK but not great. The BelmontGoesSolar.org campaign has been successful mainly due to the tireless efforts of volunteers but it could be much, much more successful if the tariff was full retail net metering. The more successful the campaign is, the more money Belmont saves. Alexandra understands this. Mark does not. Concord saves $120K a year from its solar installs. The simple fact remains that 98% towns in MA successfully practice full retail net metering. It is settled law. Roy fails to explain why Belmont somehow deserves something less than that. Let’s get Alexandra elected so we can stop this backward thinking and improve the tariff.

    • says

      Dear Sue:
      I’m asking you if you’d like to edit your comment concerning the solar tariff. I found the tone unhelpful in promoting a civil debate. Leading your comment with “Poor Roy” and saying he knows “next to nothing about renewable energy” when he has been called as a witness in similar cases is more snark than actually defending your position. Thanks.

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