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Photo Credit: Marilyn Humphries. 

Virtual Net Metering: Massachusetts

Massachusetts' virtual net metering program is a unique flavor of community energy. While it’s not called “shared renewables,” the policy does achieve the goal of allowing a group of customers to share the utility bill credits of a local renewable energy project.

The policy offers two different paths to participation:

In one, participating net-metered systems can allocate monthly excess generation to one or more customers within a distribution company’s service territory. So if you have a large solar energy system, for example, that produces more power than you need in a given month, you can apply those credits to another local energy customer – perhaps one who can’t go solar on their own property. This option has by far been the driving force for shared renewables progress in the state. 

With the other less-used option, called “neighborhood net metering,” the shared system must be owned by or serve the needs of at least ten local residential energy consumers. Once this minimum has been met, the system can serve additional residential or commercial customers – so schools, businesses and local governments also have the opportunity to participate. All customers served must be within the same municipality and the service territory of a single electric company. Customers receive net metering credit for their portion of the power produced.

The virtual net metering policy, which offers customers and developers plenty of flexibility for participation and a strong credit rate, has made Massachusetts a national leader in shared renewables. It has enabled arrays like the Mill Street Solar Project in Gardner, the results of a partnership between the City, the Gardner Redevelopment Authority (GRA) and the non-profit Boston Community Capital. The one-megawatt shared solar energy system sits on the remediated site of a former furniture manufacturing plant, long since abandoned and razed.

Using Massachusetts’ virtual net metering program, the electricity generated by the shared solar offsets as much as 80% of the power needs of four local organizations: an assisted living facility, an affordable housing development, a non-profit dedicate to delivering services to those with disabilities, and a family-owned hardware chain that has been a fixture in Gardner since 1908.

Projects like this put the “community” in community shared solar.