New Options Make Solar Energy Available to More DC Residents

Residents learn about bulk solar at the Hill Center.  Photo: C Plume

Did you know that Capitol Hill has the highest concentration of homes powered by solar energy in the District? While installing a solar energy system on your home continues to be a bargain for DC residents, the up-front costs of installation can be a barrier. As District rebates for solar installation continue to drop and begin to focus on lower income households, bulk solar purchases help keep solar energy installation reasonable by reducing costs by up to 20%. 

With a bulk solar purchase, a group of homeowners jointly selects an installer. Each homeowner pays separately for the installation for their own system. If a group of neighbors buys 320 solar panels for their homes, the price per panel will be cheaper than if one homeowner purchased 12 panels for his home. There may be savings for a group on installation as well. Bulk purchase is attractive to installers as they are selling their product to a group. The homeowners establish the group and determine the terms –such as only buying US made solar panels, etc).

Community Power Network (www.communitypowernetwork.com) provides a wealth of information on bulk solar across the US.  DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN–www.dcsun.org) is helping neighborhoods across the District organize bulk solar groups.  DC SUN, an independent volunteer network of neighborhood organizations from across DC, provides neutral, informed, and accurate information for individuals and groups interested in pursuing solar energy on homes and businesses.  DC SUN has helped organize bulk solar purchases in Wards 1 and 4 already, and participants saved 20-30% on installed systems.

On Tuesday, July 16th, some 30 Hill residents attended a meeting at the Hill Center hosted by DC SUN to discuss solar bulk purchasing. The meeting covered solar energy system basics but focused on bulk solar purchasing. Corey Ramsden of DC SUN outlined the steps for solar bulk purchase which include:

  • Start or join a group and recruit more people (A minimum of 20 households/businesses is needed to optimize a bulk solar purchase).
  • Host an informational meeting (DC SUN will help co-facilitate this meeting).
  • Sign a letter of Commitment with DC SUN (This is a non-binding agreement that outlines the services that DC SUN will provide including helping residents compare the bids that come in from installers). 
  • Review Roofs – (DC SUN will ensure that your roof is capable of supporting a solar installation and that it receives enough sun per day to make the investment worthwhile).
  • Collect electricity bills – (This helps installers determine the amount of financial benefit you’re likely to receive off of any system).
  • Develop the terms of your offer and solicit bids from various providers.
  • Review bids (Again, DC Sun will help analyze bids.)
  • Select installer.
  • Sign individual contracts (Despite the “bulk” purchase, each homeowner will sign an individual contract).  If installing a system inside the Capitol Hill Historic District, make sure the installer will provide you with the permitting needed.
  • Install!

This process should take approximately 4-6 months. 

I wish I’d known about the bulk purchase option last year, when I had a 2.82 kW (12 panel) Photovoltaic Solar System installed on my Capitol Hill rowhouse. The total cost for installation was $12,408; had I opted for a bulk purchase, the cost would have been even less. As it was, I was still able to get a good deal on the solar installation through a combination of DC rebates, federal income tax credit, and the energy savings I get from having the system on my roof.  I could have also explored other financing options such as leasing panels, taking out a loan or getting a home equity line of credit.

Pepco is required to buy renewable energy credits, so every few months, I get a check from my installer for my Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). One SREC is equivalent to 1MWh of electricity generation, which is currently worth approximately $400 in DC. A 3KW system will generate approximately 3.5 SRECs per year.  My 2.82kW system earns me some $800 per year just for having the system on my house.  The cost will drop as more people adopt solar and the price of the SREC drops, but it’s still money in my pocket that I’ll receive for the next 10 years. I could have also sold my SRECs upfront, though at a discounted price. DC SUN and their listserv can answer any question you may have about SRECs or solar installation in general.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more renewable energy options in DC. In July, the DC City Council voted unanimously in support of the Community Renewable Energy Act (CREA) to expand access to solar energy in DC. CREA allows residents to participate in a local solar installation, even if they don't own a roof. This is a great option for homeowners with shaded roofs, apartment and condo dwellers to benefit from solar. CREA will come up for one more vote in September before it becomes law. 

Catherine Plume blogs for the DC Recycler, www.dcrecycler.blogspot.com