Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Support DC Solar: Sign This Petition!

If you're a DC resident, your signature would be valuable on a petition encouraging the DC Council to pass the Distributed Generation Amendment Act of 2011, which is vital to the continued development of residential solar power generation within the District. In February, I submitted the following written testimony for a council hearing about the Act, but a decision has yet to be reached:

I am writing in support of the Distributed Generation Amendment Act of 2011.

My family and I are in the process of installing a small (approximately 3 kW) solar photovoltaic system on our roof in the District. We initially became interested in the project because of DC's excellent rebate program, and are currently on the waiting list to receive funding approval. Although the future of the rebate program is uncertain and the size of the rebate will likely be cut in order to support more projects, we plan on continuing our installation because we believe solar energy is a vital part of DC's future.

The success of our project is obviously important to us, but the benefits that the solar industry provides to DC are far more important. Solar resources provide significant grid stability, keep energy prices low even as the cost of fuel rises, and assist in the development of a more sustainable and environmentally sound future for both the District and the world.

Even in an a shaky and often shrinking economy, the solar industry has grown substantially. DC is leading the charge, with 40% growth over the last two years. There are now over 20 companies within DC, employing approximately 600 fulltime employees, many within low-income communities. With the aid of the city government, another 2,000 jobs could be created in the District over the next nine years. All of this is possible without negatively impacting the DC budget in any way.

The Distributed Generation Amendment Act of 2011 will help finance new solar projects, as it will help keep more of the money from the clean power generation within the District's borders and thus provide an economic backbone for solar investment. By seeking to increase the percentage of solar energy in DC from 0.4% in 2020 to 2.5% in 2020, the Act will also allow the District to compete with nearby states like Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey in this exciting environmental and economic opportunity.

Please support the Distributed Generation Amendment Act of 2011. It will help ensure a safe, clean and economically healthy Washington, DC of the future.

To give you a little more background, people who install solar panels make their money back in three ways:

•Immediate savings on power bills. At current rates, full repayment from power bill savings alone usually takes more than 25 years in this part of the world, which is potentially longer than the lifespan of the panels. This math will improve as energy costs increase and panels get cheaper, but currently residential solar is only a break-even proposition.

•Government subsidies, both on the federal and state/local level, in the form of rebates and tax credits/deductions.

•Sale of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), which utilities must purchase in order to prove that a certain percentage of their ratepayers' power was produced by renewable sources.

Until recently, DC maintained an extraordinary rebate program that reimbursed solar installers for a significant portion of their installation costs. Between that and the federal tax credit, I calculated that solar paneling in the District was the rough equivalent of a relatively guaranteed 20%/year investment – a strong financial move by any standard.

However, earlier this year the city decided to re-appropriate the money that it had set aside for the program in order to close gaps in its budget. Hundreds of households in the city (including my parents) had already begun the installation process when they were left in the lurch by this abrupt move; many of them literally have signed letters from the city government promising them specific amounts of money, which they now will not receive for a year or more, if at all. Since these funds were originally collected through a surcharge on all PEPCO bills within the city for the specific purpose of supporting the rebate, the re-appropriation represents borderline fraud and theft on the part of the city government.

Without the rebate, residential solar paneling is no longer economically viable for most DC residents, since it requires a significant upfront investment with low long-term return. Although I still have some small hope that these funds will not be stolen in future budgets, and even that the program will be extended past 2012, damage has already been done to the solar industry (and thus the DC economy as a whole). We need to take quick action to reverse this trend.

Thankfully, there is another solution to solar financing, one that doesn't affect DC's budget at all: increase the value of SRECs.

Currently, the market for SRECs in the District is lagging because DC allows solar installers in other states to sell their SRECs in the District, while only requiring PEPCO to purchase a small amount of renewable energy: low demand, high supply. The Distributed Generation Amendment Act of 2011 would increase the required amount of solar energy consumed in the district to 2.5% of total consumption, by 2020. It would also require PEPCO to purchase the SRECs that represent this power production entirely from within the District. Thus, raising demand and lowering supply.

If you support local development of renewable energy – and you should – then this bill is a no-brainer. It also represents a certain level of economic justice for the hundreds of DC households who have been literally lied to by their elected government.

So sign here!

1 comment:

  1. Agreed! We're roughly at the break-even point now, and things are only going to improve.