2021 Massachusetts SMART program explained
The Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program offers some great benefits to Massachusetts residents who install solar panels on their homes.
In this article, we’ll break down this unique solar incentive program, explore how it differs from Masschusetts' previous solar rebates, and how it impacts the payback time of your solar installation.
On this page:
- What is the SMART program?
- How it works
- How much you'll get paid
- How much you can save
- Effect on solar payback time
- SMART vs. SRECs
- Final thoughts
What is the SMART solar incentive program?
In November 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) officially opened the Massachusetts SMART program in order to support solar development throughout the state.
The program was designed to replace the state’s solar renewable energy credit (SREC) program.
Originally, the goal of Massachusetts’ SMART program was to support the installation of 1,600 megawatts (MW) of solar in the state. In April 2020, the program was doubled to support the installation of 3,200 MW of solar.
These changes to the SMART regulations were put into place not only to help the solar industry recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to get Massachusetts to reach its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goals while continuing the fight against climate change.
If you qualify for the SMART program, your utility will pay you a fixed rate-per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) of solar energy your solar panels produce for 10 years.
And if you’re a Massachusetts resident considering solar, we recommend starting here for a quick breakdown of solar panel costs.
How does the SMART program work?
Massachusetts’ SMART program can be a little confusing to understand at first, so let’s break it down.
As we said earlier, the SMART program has a capacity of 3,200 MW of solar installations. This capacity is divided among the three investor-owned electric distribution companies in Massachusetts: Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil.
The capacity amount assigned to each utility company is based on how many customers are in the utility’s service territory. For example, Massachusetts Electric (AKA National Grid) services the largest number of customers, so they are given a larger portion of the SMART program budget.
From there, the total capacity that is allocated for each utility is divided into different categories, based on system characteristics. For example, low-income community solar projects will receive a different incentive rate than residential projects.
These categories are divided further into ‘capacity blocks’. As more SMART applications are approved, these blocks fill up. When a block is full, that means the block has reached capacity and the program will move to the next block. The new block will have a lower incentive rate than the previous block.
How much will I get paid through the SMART program?
The SMART incentive rate you will receive depends on three things:
- The size of your system
- Your utility
- What block the program is in
Because the average residential solar system is 6 kilowatts (kW) in size, we’re only going to focus on the incentive rates offered for solar panel systems that are less than 25 kW.
The full list of incentive payments can be found in the program’s Value of Energy Workbook.
The following table outlines the current incentive rate, also called the Capacity Block Compensation Rate, that is being offered by each utility for solar panels systems that are less than or equal to 25 kW in size:
|Utility||Current Block||Capacity Block Compensation Rate|
|Eversource East||4 of 8||$0.30081 / kWh|
|Eversource West||7 of 8||$0.22368 / kWh|
|National Grid (Massachusetts Electric)||5 of 16||$0.26437 / kWh|
|National Grid (Nantucket)||1 of 4||$0.34000 / kWh|
|Unitil||3 of 8||$0.25889 / kWh|
It’s important to note that the Capacity Block Compensation Rate includes the cost of electricity, so it rolls the value of net metering and the value of the SMART program incentive into one.
If you want to know exactly how much you are getting from the SMART program alone, you have to subtract the cost of electricity from the Capacity Block Compensation Rate.
Adders can make you more money
The SMART program also offers ‘adders’ that will earn you more money if your system has certain characteristics.
For instance, installing a battery storage system with your panels can qualify you for the energy storage adder, which will give you additional savings per kWh. Installing a system on a brownfield will also qualify you for an adder.
These adders encourage those who are making the switch to solar power to consider installing certain types of systems in order to receive a larger incentive payment.
How much will I save with the SMART program?
The best way to understand how much a solar system owner will save with the SMART program is with an example.
Let’s say you are an Eversource East customer and you install a 6 kW solar panel system on your roof that produces 12,000 kWh of electricity a year. You get approved for the SMART program and receive the Block 4 Capacity Block Compensation Rate of $0.30081 per kWh of solar energy your panels produce.
Remember, the Block Compensation Rate includes the cost of electricity. To figure out how much you save with the SMART program, you subtract the cost of electricity, which in this case is about $0.13588 per kWh, from the Capacity Block Compensation Rate.
So, that means that the SMART program is really paying you an extra $0.16493 per kWh of solar energy you produce.
If your panels produce 12,000 kWh in one year, the SMART program will save you an additional $1,979.16 in one year.
When you include the net metering credits, you would then save $3,609.72 per year. That means over the course of 10 years, you would save $36,097.20 with the SMART program and net metering.
Check out our free solar calculator to see an accurate estimate of what the solar payback period would be for your home.
How will the SMART program affect my solar payback time?
The SMART program can greatly cut down on your solar payback period time.
If you consider the example above, the payback period for a 6 kW solar system in Massachusetts with net metering and the federal tax credit would be almost 9 years.
When you add the SMART program savings on top of that, the payback period cuts itself in half to just 4 years.
The payback period may differ from this example. How long it will actually take to payback your system depends on:
- How much you paid for the system
- How much your utility charges for electricity
- What SMART program capacity block you qualify for
Is the SMART program different from the Massachusetts’ SREC program?
Yes, the SMART program is quite different from the previous solar programs in the Commonwealth. The old programs, SREC I and SREC II, involved homeowners receiving - and reselling - energy credits based on their solar energy production.
For every megawatt-hour of solar energy produced, homeowners would receive one SREC. These SRECs could then be sold to utilities in order for them to meet their renewable portfolio standards. SRECs are traded on a market, so their value varies based on market conditions. This volatile pricing made it difficult for homeowners to determine how much savings they would really get from their system.
The SMART program was designed to eliminate the unpredictability of the SREC market while still paying solar customers for the clean energy they produce. When you enter the SMART program, any renewable energy credits your solar panels produce will automatically go to the utility. The utility pays you back for these credits through the additional kWh SMART payment.
Massachusetts SMART program makes solar an even smarter choice
Programs like Massachusetts’ SMART program could begin popping up in other states throughout the US, especially in states where they are preparing to phase out SRECs, like in New Jersey.
The SMART Program is an excellent way for homeowners to save extra money on their electricity bills. Plus, it eliminates the mystery that comes with the volatile market of SRECs while still giving homeowners credit for the clean energy they produce.
The sooner you apply for the SMART program, the better - as you ensure that you’ll get the highest possible incentive rate. You can also get extra savings if you decide to pair your solar panels with an energy storage system.
Check out our list of local solar installers to start finding out how much a solar system will save you. Going solar in Massachusetts is one of the SMART-est choices you can make!
- The Massachusetts SMART program started in 2018 as a replacement for the state's SREC program.
- The SMART incentive rate you receive will depend on the size of your system, your utility, and what step the program is in.
- The incentive you receive, also called the Capacity Block Compensation rate, includes the price of electricity - so it rolls net metering and the SMART incentive into one.
- The SMART program has the potential to earn you thousands of additional dollars per year, depending on the size of your system and how much electricity it produces.