Housing Complex

Solar Rebates Slashed Again, Jeopardizing Fragile Progress

Solar doohickey. (Darrow Montgomery)

Trying to pin down funding for solar energy in the District is like wrestling a slippery fish: You think you have it, and then it jumps out of your hands again, forcing another round of pursuit.

Along with incentives from the federal government, a $3-per-kilowatt subsidy has brought rooftop solar energy systems within the reach of rank-and-file homeowners who couldn't otherwise afford the up-front installation cost. But this last round of budget gap-closing measures was the third time funding has slipped out of the hands of advocates who've been trying to assure people that the District government will underwrite their decision to go solar. The $2 million promised for solar rebates in fiscal year 2011 was cut to $1.1 million, leaving 56 people who've already been approved for rebates–many of whom have already contracted for installations–unsure of whether the money will ever come through.

Constantly cutting funding for solar rebates is different than cutting funding for other programs. Above all else, fostering a green energy economy requires predictability: The absolute knowledge that if you go into the business of helping people put solar panels on their roofs, the government support that sustains consumer demand will be there for a while. Solar advocates thought they had accomplished this by creating a dedicated trust fund supplied with a small percentage of Pepco bills. (You may remember another dedicated funding stream, the bag tax, which was restored to Anacostia river cleanup after those who fought for it raised a ruckus when then-mayor Adrian Fenty tried to use it for something else). In such desperate fiscal times, however, the District's general fund is a voracious thing.

On Wednesday, solar advocates and installers gathered for a meeting with the District Department of the Environment to get some clarity on what was going to happen with the rebate program–none of the applicants had even been notified that their subsidies were in danger (a majority have said that they can't foot the entire bill themselves). They learned that DDOE was planning on introducing legislation to reprogram some $800,000 to re-supply the fund, which is expected to get support from Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh. Even then, the subsidy could be cut from $3 per kilowatt to as low as 50 cents. But there are no promises, and the group left still disappointed.

"From the point of view of solar, there's been no sign of any vision or leadership, whatsoever," said solar advocate Anya Schoolman, of DDOE director Christophe Tulou. "It's frustrating, because i felt like we were just on the verge of being able to tell that success story. And now we're starting from scratch."

P.S. Neighborhood coops aren't the only solar boosters who've been let down in D.C. lately. Solar decathlon contestants have been agitating to get their event restored to the National Mall, with over 4,000 letters and emails signed so far.

  • Skipper

    Solar just isn't economical without significant government subsidies. And the money just ain't there anymore for something that's more of a luxury wish list item than an absolutely necessary one.

  • Wrack

    Come on, Skipper -- *obviously* subsidizing solar for the wealthier residents who actually own their homes is much, much more important than providing human services for dirt-poor children whose parents have abandoned them to the state. It's not as if the DC government is in financial trouble or anything.

  • Mrs. D

    Sigh...if only the future sustainability of the planet we live on wasn't such a darn luxury wish list item. Oh well...MORE AIR CONDITIONING!

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  • whoa_now

    except...this was a tax specifically for a renewable energy trust fund..not a general-spend on anything fund..they taxed all DC residents-everyone on the promise that this would be used only for renewable energy sources...

    Every engery source the US uses is subsidized by our government, if you remove all the subsides..If you removed all the subsides from coal..then guess the F what..solar is actually cheaper. Save the planer..f that. I want cheap energy from coal, that is also subsidized by our government.

  • Skipper

    Hmm....so if the dedicated tax on my Pepco bill isn't being used for what it was authorized, that means I'm entitled to a refund and that the tax will be dropped, right?

  • whoa_now

    agreed. Either use the dedicated tax on its intended purpose or give me a refund.

  • John

    @Wrack: You're right! All those people on PANF outlined in the Post article, including the ones who "wouldn't take a job beneath them" and just stay on PANF being allowed on the dole forever should take first priority here. Feh.

  • Rick Mangus

    What a shame!

  • agitated

    @Skipper and @Wrack...The oil and coal industries are both heavily subsidized. We live in an energy-subsidized country. Without them, we'd be paying something closer to what Europeans pay. $8/gallon for gas sound good?

    The D.C. tax was established to promote a more secure form of energy. Phasing out the tax is one thing. Diverting funds for political expediency is something entirely different.

    Get real, D.C.

  • http://www.australiansunenergy.com.au/ solar energy rebate

    hey, I don't believe that solar energy is everything and easy resources. If true we all use them now.

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