Lobbying by renewable energy groups is on the rise in Massachusetts

Source: By STEVE LeBLANC, The Associated Press • Posted: Thursday, May 5, 2016

BOSTON (AP) — An effort to jolt Massachusetts’ reliance on solar and wind projects has surged in recent years, powered in part by an increase in lobbying by supporters of renewable energy.

In 2015, nearly two dozen renewable energy companies and advocacy groups poured more than $1.5 million into lobbying in an effort to get their voices heard by Beacon Hill lawmakers, according to an Associated Press review of state lobbying records.

Just five years ago, in 2010, only five of the 23 companies had spent anything on lobbying.

The surge comes as lawmakers and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker are wrestling with a host of renewable energy issues, from paving the way for Canadian hydropower to debating the future of solar power credits.

The spike also comes amid a fast-changing energy landscape in Massachusetts.

Earlier this month, the owners of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant announced they will shutter the facility in May 2019.

A week later, Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. said it was scrapping plans for a $3.3 billion natural gas pipeline from New York into New England through western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

One the biggest energy battles at the Statehouse this session was also resolved this month, when Baker signed a bill designed in part to help jumpstart a stalled solar energy projects in Massachusetts by raising caps on the state’s net metering program.

Net metering allows homeowners, solar developers and municipal governments to sell excess power they generate back to the electrical grid in exchange for credit. Existing net metering caps had been reached in much of Massachusetts, stalling some solar projects.

That debate drew the interest of solar power advocacy groups and businesses, like SolarCity.

The solar installer reported spending nearly $220,000 lobbying state lawmakers in 2015.

That’s more than any other renewable energy group spent on lobbying last year and a jump from the $126,000 the company spent in 2014, the first year SolarCity reported spending anything on lobbying in Massachusetts.

According to a report filed by SolarCity with the state, a good chunk of that money — more than $96,000 — went to “increasing support within the House of Representatives for raising the net metering caps by recruiting and organizing constituents from each Representative’s district to communicate with their Representative regarding why raising the net metering cap is important to them.”

SolarCity wasn’t alone.

Several other firms and environmental organizations were also pushing for the increase in the net metering cap, according to reports filed with the lobbyist division of the secretary of state’s office.

Utilities were opposed to the net metering change, which renewable energy advocates called a short-term fix. The groups say the new caps are quickly being reached and should be raised again.

While much of the renewable energy lobbying was focused on solar power, groups also spent money to pitch offshore wind and hydropower.

The group Offshore Wind Massachusetts spent just under $200,000 last year to promote offshore wind in Massachusetts, while the Bay State Hydropower Association spent nearly $44,000.

Lawmakers are likely not done with energy issues this year.

A far more wide-reaching energy bill that could include incentives for long-term contracts with hydropower suppliers and offshore wind developers is still expected before the end of the formal session on July 31.

Baker has pushed for the legislation, including language that would encourage the development of hydropower from Canada.