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Ultimate Guide to Renewable Energy in Massachusetts

Despite its cold climate, Massachusetts is one of the top solar-producing states in the country. Its climate-friendly policies offer many ways for residents and business owners to take advantage of clean energy.

There’s a reason Florida, rather than Massachusetts, is called the Sunshine State. Massachusetts is much better known for its cold, snowy winters. In January, the average daily high temperature in Boston is 36°F and there are less than 165 hours of sunshine.

You wouldn’t expect a state with this climate to be a major producer of solar energy. Yet Massachusetts is the biggest solar state in New England and one of the biggest in the entire country. Other renewable energy sources, such as wind, are also growing fast. Thanks to pro-renewable policies, the Bay State has emerged as a leader in the clean energy economy.

The history of renewable energy in Massachusetts

Support for renewable energy in Massachusetts goes all the way back to the oil crisis of the 1970s. The state responded to the crisis by passing a series of tax policies to support solar and wind energy.1 Additional laws to promote renewable energy followed, including:

  • Net metering. Net metering policies benefit utility customers who produce their own electricity (for instance, with rooftop solar panels). They can sell any unused electricity back to the utility, basically running their electric meters backward. Massachusetts first authorized net metering in 1981 and expanded it in 1997 and 2008.
  • Renewable Portfolio Standard. In 1997, Massachusetts established its first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). It requires the state to get a set amount of its electricity from renewable sources each year.
  • SRECs. The 2008 Green Communities Act (GCA) laid the groundwork for the state’s first Solar Carve-Out program. This program expanded the RPS to set specific targets for solar energy production. To meet these goals, owners of solar systems could sell credits for the solar power they produced to the utilities. These credits were called Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, or SRECs. The state added a second Solar Carve-Out in 2014.
  • Solar rebates and solar loans. Up through 2022, Massachusetts further promoted solar energy with rebates for the installation of new solar systems. And until 2020, the state also helped owners pay for new solar systems with its Mass Solar Loan program.

Recent legislation on energy policy in Massachusetts

In 2021, Massachusetts passed a major climate bill that aims to eliminate all the state’s carbon emissions by 2050. To achieve this goal, it has several provisions that promote renewable energy. These include:

  • Requiring utilities to increase their renewable energy generation by at least 3% per year starting in 2025
  • Creating new tax incentives for offshore wind energy and calling for 2,400 megawatts (MW) of new offshore wind
  • Setting clean energy standards for the state’s municipal light plants (small utilities that serve a single town or city)
  • Making it easier for residents to participate in community solar programs
  • Setting up a new grant program to help nonprofits afford solar panels
  • Establishing rebates for low-income buyers to purchase electric vehicles

Today’s renewable energy policy in Massachusetts

For Massachusetts to meet its goals under the 2021 climate bill, it needs to ramp up renewable energy fast. Various laws and policies in the state are helping it achieve that aim.

Clean energy standards

The Bay State’s current RPS requires 22% of all electricity sold in the state to come from new renewable power plants instead of fossil fuel sources which are a major cause of pollution in Massachusetts. This figure increases by 1% every year. The RPS also sets rules about how much electricity must come from solar power and from the burning of solid waste.

The state also has a Clean Energy Standard (CES) separate from the RPS. It currently requires 24% of all the state’s electricity to come from clean energy sources. This includes non-renewable, low-emissions energy sources such as nuclear power. The CES increases by 2% each year.

Finally, Massachusetts has an Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (APS). It requires 5.5% of the state’s energy to come from “alternative” sources. These don’t have to be renewable, but they must reduce the use of fossil fuels. Examples include geothermal heat pumps and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, discussed below. The APS rises by 0.25% each year.

Net metering

Under Massachusetts law, customers of the state’s three regulated utilities—Eversource, National Grid, and Until—can take advantage of net metering. To qualify, you must have a grid-connected power-generating system that meets all the utility’s rules and requirements. Private wind and solar systems of up to 2 MW and public facilities of up 10 MW are eligible.

SMART program

The Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program replaced the old SREC system in 2018. Under SMART, people with solar setups receive a payment from the state for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy they produce. The size of the payment varies based on how many people in the area are participating.

If your system qualifies for both SMART and net metering, you can take part in both programs. However, in this case, your payments from SMART are reduced by the amount of your net metering credits.

Renewable energy grant programs in Massachusetts

Massachusetts no longer offers rebates or low-interest loans for the installation of solar systems. However, it still has the MassSave program, which provides incentives for homes and businesses to become more energy efficient.

Both homes and businesses can receive discounts or rebates on weatherization and efficient heating and cooling systems. Homeowners, renters, and landlords can also get incentives for energy-efficient appliances, home renovations, and new construction. Business owners can receive incentives for upgrading their lighting, water heating, HVAC, and specialty equipment. In addition, MassSave offers free or low-cost energy assessments and zero-interest loans for homeowners to improve their home’s efficiency.

Renewable energy production in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is already a big producer of renewable energy, and its production is growing fast. But the state still has a long way to go to eliminate its fossil fuel use.

Wind and solar capacity in Massachusetts

As of mid-2022, Massachusetts had 3,986 MW of installed solar capacity—enough to power over 670,000 homes. That made this small state the nation’s ninth-largest producer of solar electricity. According to the Energy Information Administration, 20% of all electricity produced in the state in 2021 came from solar.

Wind development in the Bay State has been somewhat slower. As of 2021, the state had only 120 MW of installed wind capacity. That put the state far below its goal of 2,000 MW by 2020.

However, this will soon change. Massachusetts is currently seeking proposals for the installation of thousands of megawatts of new wind power. The state will add 3,200 MW of new wind capacity starting in 2023, with another 2,400 to come by 2027.

Wind turbines in a large green field.

Other renewable energy sources

Renewable energy in Massachusetts isn’t limited to wind and solar. Other significant sources include:

  • Biomass. Massachusetts has relied on biomass energy—mostly from burning trash—as a power source for decades. In 2021, it had 284 MW of biomass power plants. This made biomass the state’s second-largest renewable power source after solar, producing 5% of the electricity generated in state.
  • Hydropower. The third-largest renewable power source in Massachusetts is hydropower from the Connecticut River and other rivers. In 2021, it supplied 4% of in-state power generation.
  • CHP. Combined heat and power (CHP), also called cogeneration, produces both heat and electricity in a central plant. Combining the two is about 50% more efficient than producing heat and power separately. CHP systems aren’t always powered by renewables, but they do cut down on fossil fuel use. As of 2018, Massachusetts had 447 MW of installed cogeneration capacity.

How renewable energy could reduce reliance on natural gas in Massachusetts

Despite the growth of renewables in Massachusetts, the state still produces over two-thirds of its electricity from natural gas. However, the state has no natural gas reserves or production of its own. This makes it heavily dependent on gas piped or shipped in from other states. Thus, its dependence on natural gas is an economic problem as well as an emissions problem.

According to the state’s 2020 Decarbonization Roadmap, Massachusetts can greatly reduce its need for gas by expanding renewable energy. However, the state will probably continue to rely on natural gas as a backup energy source for decades.

Renewable energy sector employment in Massachusetts

The clean energy sector in Massachusetts employed nearly 114,000 workers at the end of 2019. That’s roughly 3% of the state’s total workforce. From 2010 through 2019, this sector grew by nearly 89%.

However, in 2020, this growth stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that year, clean energy businesses laid off nearly 14,000 workers. Fortunately, the 2021 climate bill offers a plan to counteract this. It allots an extra $12 million per year to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to train new clean energy workers.

How can Massachusetts residents take advantage of renewable energy?

The Bay State’s pro-clean-energy policies give residents many ways to go green at home. Options include:

  • Community Choice Electricity. Many towns in Massachusetts take part in municipal aggregation programs. They buy clean electricity in bulk from the suppliers and offer it to residents at a discount. You can find a complete list of towns with these programs at
  • Sign up for community solar. When you join a community solar project, you buy your electricity from a local solar farm at a discounted rate. Perch can help find a community solar program near you.
  • Switch power providers. Massachusetts has a deregulated energy market. This allows residents to buy their electricity from suppliers other than their local utility. More than 75% of these competing power products use only renewable energy. Perch can help you find a clean energy supplier that will also save you money.
  • Generate your own solar power. Massachusetts residents who install solar panels can qualify for SMART payments and net metering credits. Massachusetts does not currently offer rebates for new solar systems, but state residents can qualify for federal renewable energy tax credits.
  • Consider a small wind turbine. Residential wind projects in Massachusetts also qualify for net metering. The University of Massachusetts Amherst offers a list of resources for Bay State residents considering wind systems.
  • Upgrade your home’s efficiency. You can reduce the amount of renewable energy you need to purchase (or produce) by making your home more efficient. Check out Energy New England to find energy efficiency discounts and rebates in your area.
  • Go electric. MassSave offers rebates, incentives, and interest-free financing for projects to electrify your home. Examples include installing heat pumps and replacing gas appliances with electric ones. There are incentives for businesses, too.
An open field with large solar panel arrays, making up a solar farm.
A community solar farm in Massachusetts

The future of Massachusetts solar

A 2022 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts that solar power in Massachusetts will continue to expand. Even with no further steps to promote solar, the state will have 4.6 gigawatts (GW) of capacity by 2040. Wind power will also grow, reaching 7 GW, and the two together will supply 85% of the state's electricity.

But Massachusetts could do even better than this. If the state continues to push for solar development, it could have as much as 32,000 GW by 2040. Renewable energy could supply all the state’s power needs, even as electrification drives up demand.

A 100% renewable energy future is possible in Massachusetts, and soon. All that’s needed is the political will to achieve it.

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