Solar Energy: In DC, It’s Not Just for Homeowners Anymore

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Representatives from CleanChoice Energy and New Columbia Solar inspect a DC solar farm on a cold spring day. Photo: CleanChoice Energy

Solar energy has long been available for DC homeowners, but apartment and condo dwellers have only had the option of subscribing to green energy produced outside the District. Thanks to a new program sponsored by DC-based CleanChoice Energy, a renewable energy company that provides wind and solar energy products to customers across the country, and New Columbia Solar, one of the District’s largest solar energy companies, all DC residents, including condo owners and apartment dwellers, can now power their homes with solar energy generated in DC.

What Is ‘Community Solar’?
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, community solar refers to “local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.” In DC this means that New Columbia Solar installs community solar “farms” on commercial, mixed-use and apartment building rooftops across the District. Any DC resident or business owner who receives a Pepco bill can sign up (“subscribe”) to receive the solar energy generated from these farms to power their homes/business through CleanChoice Energy. The solar farm generates electricity which goes directly into the Pepco grid. While subscribers pay a monthly fee to CleanChoice, based on how much energy is produced by their share of the solar farm, they receive credits on their utility bills, based on the energy produced from their share of the farm. According to CleanChoice Energy, most subscribers save up to five percent on their electric bill through the program.

Why Does Community Solar Work?
Any District resident or business owner who receives a Pepco bill can sign up for solar energy generated by the solar farm, regardless of whether they live in a house, apartment or condo. Prior to the creation of the solar farm concept, building owners could only offer solar energy to the residents/tenants of the building where the solar farm was located. By creating this DC-wide “solar market” of some 281,000 households, building owners are guaranteed return and surety on the investment needed to make installing solar on their rooftops worthwhile. With this wide potential customer base, the solar farm will always have subscribers who will financially support the project and benefit from the energy it generates, even if they rent or do not have a roof suitable for solar panels.

Why Is DC Allowing Creation of Community Solar Farms?
The DC Council passed an ambitious clean energy bill in 2018 that calls for the District to use only 100-percent-renewable energy by 2032. Community solar programs are a key tool in making that goal a reality. Tommy Wells, the Director of DC’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE), is pleased to see solar farms become a reality in the District, noting, “Community solar opens up the benefits of solar to all residents – including lower energy bills and cleaner air – while creating jobs and renewable energy investment in all eight wards of the District.”

How Many Have Signed On?
According to Tom Matzzie, CEO of CleanChoice Energy, to date CleanChoice’s DC portfolio of community solar projects is some 1.825 megawatts. Most of the solar farms established in the District have been installed on multi-family dwellings. This portfolio of projects is open to 300 residents to sign on to the program, and these subscribers will avoid approximately 3.4 million pounds of carbon pollution, the equivalent of approximately 1.7 million pounds of coal burned. Per the US Environmental Protection Agency, this is the equivalent of taking more than 1,300 cars off the road in any given year. There are still some openings for this portfolio, and CleanChoice expects there to be more community solar projects in the future.

How Do You Sign Up?
Go online to CleanChoiceEnergy.com/DCsolar with your Pepco account number to hand. There are no changes to your relationship with Pepco, which will maintain the wires and deliver the electricity to your home through its infrastructure. There are no upfront costs, payments, equipment, installation or maintenance required. The only difference is that instead of having coal-derived electricity delivered to your home or business, your energy source will be solar energy that is generated from a DC community solar farm. In minutes, you can be invested in a DC community solar farm, running your home or business on solar energy, saving money and reducing your carbon footprint. It’s a really good deal for you and the planet.

 

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member and the vice chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.