Snow can’t slow renewable energy progress at RE+ Northeast

Snow can’t slow renewable energy progress at RE+ Northeast
(Abigail Ross Hopper and Sheri Givens take the keynote stage at RE+ NE)

(Boston, MA) – A massive snowstorm is slamming the Eastern seaboard this week, but you’d never know it walking around the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where thousands of renewable energy professionals are dodging the inclement weather to attend RE+ Northeast.

“It’s so good to see we have hearty souls who can survive the Snowpocalypse in Massachusetts,” chuckled Massachusetts State Representative Jeffrey Roy in his opening remarks. “But why did they do a solar conference in Boston in February?”

Lots of reasons! Here are some quick highlights from Tuesday’s keynote address:

Legislation is progressing quickly in Massachusetts: Representative Roy touted two new pieces of legislation that came out of the last session and a third that they’re working on currently. “Last week was our first foray,” he detailed. “We are at the beginning of that process, but we are well underway.”

The Northeast market keeps expanding: Massachusetts currently has 4376 MW of solar installed, the 11th-most in the United States. The state currently boasts 550 MW of energy storage. “We need a clear path to market, especially in the short term,” says Roy. State of Charge, a study into energy storage in Massachusetts, calls for 10,000 MW of solar and 4500 MW of storage.

More legislation and a feedback deadline: “The Commonwealth can’t afford to leave future projects in a regulatory black hole,” Roy decrees. He brings up interconnection bill H3992, which promises to expand customer access to a modern grid. “By assuring its part of the vehicle in play, we’ll be able to continue to incorporate feedback and consensus recommendations,” Roy continues. “That’s a call for further input on things you think we may have missed or things that we need.” He says now is the time to reach out, as his office will be drafting and re-drafting legislation over the next few months. His goal is to get this latest batch of clean energy policy on the Governor’s desk by July.

2024 could be pivotal: Sheri Givens of the Smart Electric Power Alliance and Abigail Ross Hopper, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association gave remarks following Representative Roy. Hopper made it a point to seize the moment, noting that every year feels like the most important year, but 2024 is truly shaping up to be transformational. She talked about how much politics and partisanship will shape the direction we take toward our renewable energy goals. “I realized I dressed like an American flag this morning,” she laughed. “I wish I could say that was intentional!”

Priorities, priorities, priorities: 2024 Massachusetts state policy priorities per Hopper: valuation of solar, storage, and solar + storage projects, DER compensation and rate making, RTO/ISO engagement, consumer protection, recycling and decommissioning, and energy equity.

SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper previews the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2024

Cool tool: SEIA’s website already has some pretty useful tools, like the one tracking every solar project in the United States. Add this one to the list- the Solar & Storage Supply Chain Dashboard.

Trust us: Hopper emphasized the importance of strengthening public trust in residential solar, including sales and installation practices. She sees this as imperative to meeting our clean energy goals.

Setting an example: Givens thinks the Northeast and New England in particular has really set a precedent for the nation. “The real challenge is figuring out how we’re going to achieve these goals,” she says, making a note of Vineyard 1 progress and the impact of a project that could power 400,000 homes.

Grid equity: “Equity is embedded in everything we do,” Givens emphasizes. A priority for SEPA in 2024 will be “ensuring that equitable systems are in place and getting rid of the legacy systems.”

Coding is for everyone: Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Dr. Tarika Barrett, PhD. She’s the CEO of Girls Who Code, an international nonprofit deadset on eliminating the gender gap in STEM fields. Barrett intends to give every girl from elementary school through college a chance to code. She says the gender gap is actually shrinking in many fields, but progress is trending backward in computer science fields. “This should alarm all of us,” she says, noting that the median wage for such gigs is a healthy $97,000.

Who gets to build the world we live in: “We are failing to prepare our girls for the future,” Barrett adds. She wants more young women to have a say in the future we’re creating, seeing computer scientists as the modern architects of our lives. “They control the flow of information and create tech that determines who gets charged with a crime or even who crosses our borders,” insists Barrett. By excluding women from tech, we’re telling them the best jobs out there- the ones that dictate our future- are not for them. “That’s not something I’m willing to accept for my daughter,” the Girls Who Code founder presses.

Changing the narrative: The biggest barrier to women in STEM? Perception, argues Barrett, who thinks this has little to do with lack of interest or technical abilities. Girls Who Code works to expand societal notions of what a coder looks like, partnering with campaigns that have produced everything from a gamer doll to a codable Doja Cat music video.

Making an impact: In just over a decade, Barrett’s programs have served more than 580,000 people globally. Her alumni are earning computer science and related degrees at about seven times the national average. Barrett says we’re on track to achieve entry-level parity in those fields by 2030, which rouses a round of applause from the room.

RE+ Northeast continues through tomorrow. Keep your browser tuned to Renewable Energy World for more newsworthy notes from the event!