On December 15, 2014 the Board of Selectmen—who function as the Light Board of the Belmont Light municipal utility—approved a new solar tariff that will make Belmont one of the most anti-residential solar communities in the Northeast. Belmont Light will buy energy from residential solar hosts at approximately 40% the price of what solar hosts in every neighboring town receive and impose a stiff tax on solar production used in a host’s own house. As a result the yearly electric bill for a host with an average solar array in Belmont would be approximately $780 while in Arlington a host with an identical array would have a yearly bill of $127. The difference in total payments over a twenty-five year lifespan of the solar array would likely total over $16000.
The graph explains this in more detail. The various solar tariffs listed on the vertical axis are described here. For now there are 3 tariffs to focus on: 1. Phase 3, at the top, is the original proposal by the Municipal Light Advisory Board (MLAB) which values residential solar in the lowest manner possible—wholesale rate on total solar production. 2. Retail net metering, at the bottom, is the current way of paying solar hosts in a vast majority of communities in Massachusetts. 3. Sami’s 50% (named after Selectman Sami Bagdady), which was offered as a compromise measure, turns out to be far closer to Phase 3 than to retail net metering and is in fact a watered-down version of Phase 3. This tariff was approved in spite of the fact that Selectman Andy Rojas, the chairman of the Light Board, explicitly told Belmont residents, at a hearing on the matter that the Phase 3 tariff was “off the table.” Residents were told that a compromise measure would be somewhere between net metering and Phase 2. As it turned out the Selectmen weren’t being honest.
The Selectmen have offered a “green credit” to offset a small portion of the initial cost of the array—the amount of which is to be determined by the Advisory Board before April, 2015. While such a credit may decrease the length of time to pay back any loans, the residual payments for solar production in Belmont will be less than half of what residents in the rest of Massachusetts receive.
Solar in Belmont—for the time being—continues to be supported by ratepayers in the rest of Massachusetts through SRECs purchased by their Investor Owned Utilities. This means ratepayers in the rest of Massachusetts will support solar hosts far more than Belmont ratepayers will support their own hosts. These SREC payments may allow solar investment to continue in Belmont for the time being but, without doubt, Belmont’s new solar tariff will restrain the growth of solar in Belmont. And if residents of the municipal utilities are taken out of the future solar subsidy system—a possibility the state legislature has seriously considered—the new tariff imposed by the Selectmen may stop solar installations in Belmont completely.