T’is the Season to Install Solar Energy East of the River!

The cost of installing solar panels has never been cheaper, and homeowners in DC’s Wards 7 and 8 are jumping on the renewable energy bandwagon. Working in collaboration with DC Solar United Neighborhoods(DC SUN), homeowners (and businesses owners who own their building) are establishing the East of the River Solar Co-op, using their collective buying power to get a discounted price for solar panel installation. DC SUN is hoping that at least 100 residents and business will sign up for this group bulk purchase.

How Do Solar Photovoltaic Systems Work?

When you install a solar photovoltaic system – an array of solar panels – on your home or building you’ll still receive electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether the sun is shining or not. You’ll also still receive a single electricity bill from your current electricity provider. The energy that is produced by the solar panels on your home or building will feed back into the electricity grid. You’ll be reimbursed for the energy your home/building produces on your electricity bill. As important, you’ll also receive solar renewable energy credit (SREC) payments for the solar energy produced. These SREC payments can be used to offset the cost of installing a solar array.

Should You Consider Installing Solar Panels?

There has always been an environmental benefit for installing solar panels. In DC, 95 percent of Pepco’s electricity is generated by burning coal which contributes to climate change. Solar energy is renewable and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. Solar energy produced in the US also reduces overall dependence on foreign energy sources. But investing in a solar array also makes economic sense. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association,solar energy prices have dropped by more than 73 percent since 2006, and homeowners and businesses across the US are turning to solar energy as it becomes cheaper. As of June 2015, nearly 784,000 US homes and businesses had installed solar for some or all of their electricity needs, with a new solar project installed every two minutes.

Why Join a Coop?

Solar installation companies invest a great deal of time and resources looking for clients. Coop members work together to conduct a competitive bidding process to select a single company that will install systems on all of the participating homes. Solar companies are willing to offer discounts of as much as 20 percent to coops as they are bidding to install systems on many homes and businesses, often located in close proximity, saving them advertising and transportation revenue. Each coop member signs their own contract with the installer, but everyone benefits from the bulk discount. Members are able to consider various options for their system such as whether they buy or rent the panels.

While negotiating a solar installation contract isn’t rocket science, it does require some insight and expertise. DC SUN and Community Power Networkhave supported coops across DC for the past six years, and have helped more than 300 DC residents and businesses install solar arrays. Their latest project is the East of the River Co-op. The schematic outlines how a solar coop works. You can sign up to join at http://www.dcsun.org/ward78/ or by sending an email to solarteam@dcsun.org. 

The cost of a solar installation will vary depending on the size of your roof and the amount of shade that falls on it and what you can afford. In DC the cost of a typical solar array on a home ranges from $9,000 to $27,000, but tax credits, SRECs, and lower energy bills help cover these costs. To ensure everyone who owns a home has access to solar energy, the DC Department of Energy and Environment (DDOE) has paired up with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility(DC SEU) to establish a program that helps lower-income residents install solar on their homes with no upfront costs. To learn more about this program you can call DC SEU at 202-479-2222 or email them at info@dcseu.com.

The White House, Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, and Vatican are all generating solar energy. Join the trend! There’s never been a better time to sign up for solar. 

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter @DC_Recycler.