Housing Complex

D.C. Takes Solar Power Into the Digital Age

shutterstock_72500704The federal government may be shut down today, but the D.C. Council is in the midst of a legislative session. And it just passed a bill that has D.C. solar power advocates very excited.

The Community Renewable Energy Act, which just passed unanimously, will make it possible for people without their own rooftops to reduce their monthly electricity bills by means of solar power. Until now, if you wanted to use solar power to cut your bills, you pretty much had to have a roof or another surface where you could install solar panels and connect them to your Pepco meter. If you were a renter or lived in a condo building, you were basically out of luck.

This bill allows groups of people to invest in solar power on sites they don't own and to dial back their Pepco bills digitally. So if there's a solar installation somewhere in D.C., a resident can buy into, say, 10 percent of it, and then one-tenth of the electricity produced by the installation will be deducted from the person's Pepco bill. All it takes is an online sign-up.

"This is taking solar into the digital age," says Anya Schoolman, executive director of the Community Power Network and president of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop. It represents a big step forward for Pepco on solar power, given that the company has struggled to take even its basic solar operations digital.

One of the pleasant surprises of the process, says Schoolman, has been Pepco's cooperation. "There was a lot of skepticism from Pepco at the beginning," she says. "But they actually worked with us in good faith on this bill and spent literally hundreds of hours of staff time." Pepco will have to implement a system for monitoring these solar projects before people can begin participating.

The bill was introduced last year but not passed. This year, it was re-introduced by councilmembers Yvette Alexander, David Grosso, Anita BondsKenyan McDuffieMarion BarryTommy WellsMary Cheh, and Jim Graham.

Solar panel image from Shutterstock

  • sign me up

    Wow, that's very interesting. I am seriously contemplating putting solar on my roof. Right now, there are basically two options:

    1. Pay many thousands and own my own system. The up-front cost is a barrier, as is the maintenance. Solar technology is moving fast and they wear out over time so it may make sense to replace them at some point.

    2. Sign a lease with Solar City or a similar company. The electricity is cheaper than Pepco but why not own the system and get the electricity "for free?"

    This new bill may defray the cost of buying my own system which may bring it into reach.

  • beatbox

    @sign me up: The PV panels themselves will last you at least 20-30 years without significant degradation

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  • http://www.twitter.com/AdamLDC Adam L

    This could potentially be very tricky for individual homeowners. There are a lot of questions about who would own the panels in the event of a sale, how they would be maintained, etc. However, this seems like a neat idea for businesses and commercial property owners who are already used to these types of financing arrangements.

  • http://www.commgreenenergy.com Community Green Energy

    We're encouraged by Pepco’s support of the bill. We believe offsite solar makes solar power both physically accessible and more affordable to everyone who wishes to claim the economic and environmental benefits of solar. Community Green Energy (CGE) specializes in grid-tied offsite community-owned virtual solar gardens. Our turnkey program can help residents become participants in a solar garden. http://communitygreenenergy.com/services/community-virtual-solar/

  • chimonger

    ...wait for it...DC residents might soon hear a bemoaned comment from their Utility Reps, to the effect:
    "People have become so good at saving energy,
    the Utility can no longer pay it's bills!"
    That's what one Utility Rep where we are, stated. That was only after people converted mostly to using CFL's and energy efficient appliances and putting in more insulation.
    People in our County have yet to start putting up much Solar and wind power...yet.
    When we do start more of that, I bet the Utility here really starts jigging those computerized meters, even more than when those got installed.
    I am fairly certain the DC City utility will be saying some words to that effect, as soon as enough people there participate in this program!

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  • Alex D

    Congratulations Anya and everyone who worked on this, great to see all the hard work pay off!

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