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Program pays top dollar for extra power

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Kai Ryssdal: In Massachusetts, electric power is about to get a lot cheaper. At least for some customers. Today the Bay State started a program that lets home and business owners who generate their own power, say from solar panels or wind turbines, they can sell it back to the electric company. And they will get a very nice price for it as Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman explains.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: Every morning I come to my office, turn on my computer, my printer, and start drawing juice. I also get lots of morning sun. I could put up solar panels and save public radio a few dollars.

But if I generated more power than I needed, in most places I couldn’t sell it back to the power company.

In Massachusetts the power company would have to pay me top dollar, says State Energy Secretary Ian Bowles.

IAN BOWLES: Starting now, if you own solar panels on your home, or you have a small-scale wind turbine, and you want to sell extra power back to the grid, you’ll now be able to do that at a very advantageous rate.

California will do the same thing starting in January and lots of other states are working on similar programs. Massachusetts now leads the pack, because it’s making utilities pay retail rates for the electricity customers generate.

TERRY TAMMINEN: So it really encourages you to become a renewable energy entrepreneur.

California energy consultant Terry Tamminen says these policies encourage alternatives to fossil fuels. But can a bunch of windmills and rooftop solar panels really make a difference?

TAMMINEN: Boston may not be noted for its sunshine, but neither is Germany, and yet Germany is the second-largest user and producer of solar energy in the world.

For years, Germany has been paying customers a premium for the renewable power they generate. Tamminen says that’s largely why it’s jumped ahead.

Energy Secretary Ian Bowles says this program will help his state get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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