Event Recap: DC’s Solar Energy Future

Thanks to everyone who attended our event on Thursday, March 12th:

“DC’s Solar Energy Future: What’s Going Great? What Could Go Wrong?”

Our invited guest was Anya Schoolman, the Executive Director of the Community Power Network, a non-profit that includes DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN). DC SUN strives to make rooftop solar power accessible and affordable for everyone by providing communities with the information, connections, and opportunities they need to move efficiently through the “solarization” process. Anya informed us about the up-to-the minute status of solar energy in the district. She spoke to three broad topics and some other helpful information:

Pending Pepco-Exelon Merger

  • The Power DC coalition has united many different groups to oppose the pending Pepco-Exelon merger. In a big picture sense, one of the most frightening things about the merger is Exelon’s antiquated, risky business model. Its The Power DC Logoadherence to aging nuclear power plants and well-known aggression against renewable energy are worrisome from an environmental perspective and a business perspective for rate payers. As a transmitter of energy but not a producer, Pepco has been much more amenable to sourcing energy from cleaner sources.
  • D.C. does have mandated goals for renewable energy production by certain timelines. So Exelon or any other energy company would technically have to comply with those. But they may have to be dragged kicking and screaming.
  • Maryland makes its decision on April 8th. Maryland’s Attorney General General Brian Frosh filed a scathing brief against the merger. The Maryland Public Service Commission is a strong group. However, some iMD nterest groups are already discussing potential settlement terms, opting for promises of community initiatives now (perhaps broken later), as opposed to working with a less cooperative Exelon if /when a deal is complete.
  • As director of the Department of the Environment, Tommy Wells is involved in the merger, but he reports directly to Mayor Bowser.
  • Mergers like this are typically approved; but there has been a lot of public opposition to this one so far, and it is possible to stop it. Realistically, if this deal does not go through, Pepco is likely to find another buyer fairly soon. But the hope is that the buyer would not have such a terrible environmental record and would be easier to work with. Because of Exelon’s size and presence in so many different aspects of energy, the company will be tough to oppose on almost any issue.
  • Action! If you oppose the merger, you can easily and quickly tell the mayor and the Public Service Commission by using this form on the Power DC website: http://www.powerdc.org/take-action.html.

Community Solar Energy

  • ​In a nutshell, community solar allows people to own part of a solar array that is housed at a community renewable energy facility, not on the roof of their home. This means that renters or people whose homes are too shady to accommodate solar panels can still support solar energy.
  • After much work by a large coalition of groups, including Pepco, Washington Gas, the Sierra Club, and DC SUN, on October 1st 2013, the D.C. legislature passed the Community Solar Renewables Energy Act (B20-007).
  • However, the implementation plans are not yet set. There is a possibility that participants would receive only about half credit for their portion of the solar array, which makes the economics less favorable. The DC Council recently submitted a letter to the PSC asking them to ensure the regulations for the community solar legislation align with the legislator’s intent.

​Solar Energy Co-Ops​

  • CPN-InfographicWhen a group of 20-60 neighbors decides that they would like to go solar, the non-profit DC SUN can help organize and educate the group, prepare a Request for Proposals to bring in bids for a much better deal than going solar alone, and guide the group through to the end of the process. This process allows participants to save money on going solar because solar energy companies spend a significant amount of money just to find customers. If the customers organize together first, the installer doesn’t need to spend so much on advertising and marketing.
  • It’s best if the homes are in a neighborhood / nearby so that when the group meets, no one has to drive across town.
  • So far, in negotiating deals, they have found that buying a solar setup has been more economical than any leasing option for the group.
  • ​Action! If you’re interested, you can check out the DC SUN​’s website for a list of current Co-Ops. As of this posting, only a Ward 2 Co-Op is in progress. But you can sign up to be notified of one in your area; DC SUN keeps track can start one when there is a critical mass. You can also try to sign up in the Ward 2 Co-Op if there is still space. If they see lots of folks in one area trying to sign up, they’ll start a new one.

Grab Bag​

  • Technology and Policy.​In terms of fhe actual technology, solar panels​​ are largely the same​ as they have been​ for the last 30 years. ​They are field tested, come with a  25 year warranty​, and continue to become a little more efficient = and a little ​less expensive each year. As the price of the panels go down, incentives go down and incentives like the 30% federal tax credit will be sunsetting soon. ​Batteries​, however,​ are really changing. ​Without a battery, if ​the ​power goes out, ​the ​panel goes off ​so that energy doesn’t go back to grid and endanger linemen ​​working​ on the system​. ​With a battery, the panel would continue to function in the event of a power outage. ​​Currently, few people in DC have batteries​, which are bulky and expensive.​ But battery technology is changing very rapidly. ​
  • Free Solar for Low-Income Neighbors. Must be installed by September 30, 2015! More information: http://ddoe.dc.gov/node/9342
  • Pop ups. ​Some neighborhoods allow homeowners to put an additional level on their house. The DC government is looking into how disputes can be settled when these structures obstruct a neighbor’s solar panels.

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