Nearly two years ago, the United Nations warned that Earth is facing irreparable harm from climate change, with just over a decade left to cut carbon pollution enough to prevent the worst impacts. As a major greenhouse-gas emitter, the U.S. should have viewed this as an urgent alarm to change course. Yet here we are still stuck on fossil fuels. Has America become numb to the mounting threat or is it just easier to lean on incremental change and rhetoric about looking ahead to the “future generation”?
We are members of that “future generation” and we know there isn’t time to kick the proverbial can down the road any longer. As solar industry workers, our futures depend on forward-thinking policies. The time is now to invest big in a clean energy industry that will not only protect our environment, but drive economic growth and create good-paying, local jobs.
The country was on a path to curb emissions through investments in clean energy just over a decade ago when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act steered federal dollars to clean energy infrastructure jobs. At that time, Massachusetts, with its own Green Communities Act and other clean energy legislation, was a model for how a state could stand up and invest in a clean energy economy. The solar energy sector grew from approximately 3 megawatts (MW) of installed power in 2008 to 2,500 MW over the next decade. Observing the industry as college students who graduated in 2017, we both saw a bright future in solar.
The Commonwealth’s solar statistics since then have been sobering, however. Inconsistent, inadequate solar policy contributed to a loss of nearly 4,400 solar jobs in Massachusetts in recent years, a 30 percent drop. At the same time, new solar installations across the state have plummeted, with 2019 installations trailing 2017 by 40 percent.
The good news is that help is coming. President-elect Biden recognizes the urgency of combating carbon pollution, and his incoming administration reflects the reality that climate change will impact our planet and our global economy. By creating the first-ever Special Presidential Envoy for Climate on the National Security Council and appointing Massachusetts’ own John Kerry to that post, President-elect Biden has demonstrated his understanding that climate change must be the central focus of our domestic and international agendas.
We are further heartened by the president-elect’s intention to see the U.S. achieve carbon-free electricity generation by 2035, with the whole U.S. economy powered by clean energy by 2050. Biden’s $2 trillion plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions will open new avenues of opportunity for Massachusetts to reboot its commitment to renewable energy. We urge state legislators and the Baker administration to reaffirm the state’s commitment to use every tool we have to combat climate change by demonstrating bold leadership.
Legislation to jump-start solar in Massachusetts stalled in 2020. Lawmakers have an obligation now to make ambitious climate legislation, with firm but aggressive targets for the solar industry, a top priority in the new legislative session. This legislation should update incentive programs to increase clean energy
benefits for environmental justice communities, provide exemptions to arbitrary net metering caps that now hamstring solar development and commit to a net zero carbon emissions goal.
Massachusetts cannot afford complacency. The longer we wait, the worse off the state’s environment and clean energy job market will become, and the harder it will be to recover what we’ve lost. State leaders must tackle this challenge now, and send a strong signal that Massachusetts’ solar economy is not just open for business, but is key to our state’s future.