In tomorrow's scheduled state House of Representatives session H4198, electric competitiveness legislation will be debated. Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenberg) sees the debate as an opportunity to introduce her legislation to create a solar installers license, as an amendment. Benson feels the legislation is needed to offset a regulation overreach by the State Board of Electrical Examiners (BSEE) in 2009.
In 2009 the BSEE unilaterally, according to a group pushing for Benson's legislation, and without public input ruled that only licensed electricians may pull permits for solar energy installations. The regulations prohibited non-electrican owned firms, many of which have been certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners from installing solar energy equipment. This has been seen as an overreach by longstanding practitioners in the industry.
Benson's amendment would create a new professional licensure in Massachusetts for solar installers. If the amendment became law within a year those without the license, would be prohibited from pulling permits to install solar energy. In an email exchange with Red Mass Group, Representative Benson said, " I am merely trying to find a way to clarify roles and keep the industry moving forward, while providing an important consumer protection - ensuring that solar contractors are properly trained in these installations. In the end, I'm trying to keep things the way they were before 2009 - not add any undue burden, but instead remove ambiguity."
Benjamin Powell, a Senior Economist at the Beacon Hill Institute, questions whether the extra licensure requirements are necessary. Powell said, "This requirement is a waste like most of the occupational licensure we see. It will raise incomes of licensed installers and harm consumers by limiting competition and we won't see any improvement in safety or service. There is absolutely no reason electricians shouldn't be allowed to install solar panels. These type of of requirements benefit the few who get licensed and the bureaucracies established to handle their licensing education but are bad for everyone else. This requirement is a waste like most of the occupational licensure we see."
Commenting on whether or not he believes the answer to a governmental overreach is more government, Powell said, ""Deregulating existing restrictions and throwing the field open to competition is the way to go. Anyone who someone wants to hire should be allowed to do the work. If the state was going to do anything the most it should do is allow for certification so consumers can choose whether it's worth hiring certified or uncertified installers. Licensing prohibits you from hiring someone without a license. Certification provides consumers with information but doesn't limit who they're allowed to hire. If it's good enough for accountants it's good enough for solar panel installers too!"
Asked whether or not she would entertain other ideas beyond creating a new licensure, such as codifying that existing, non-electrical, tradespeople with proper cerification be allowed to obtain solar installation permits, Benson said, "Electricians are included and would get this license with little effort, but I am open to other possibilities. Many of those other suggestions have been tried already to no avail. I am looking for a solution to this issue and would be happy to work with others on alternative language for next session."
Benson's overriding goal seems to be removal of the over-reach of the BSEE. She may get the help of Republicans if her goals can be met without the creation of a new professional licensure.