First of a two-part series
Frank Cole’s most recent electric bill was $1.52. But before installing solar panels on the roof of his Petworth home, he recalls paying more than $400 a month.
“We had a nice flat screen TV, took a few vacations here and there,” Cole laughed as he recalled what he and his wife were able to do with the money they saved.
“And we can go out once in a while for a bite to eat,” he said.
Cole installed rooftop panels four years ago as part of the city government’s Solar for All program, which helps households with income access free solar power. The program offers options not only for landlords like Cole, but also for renters and people living in multi-family buildings.
Even for those who are not eligible for Solar for All, an income-tested program, residents of the district can save energy by switching to solar power – the city has one of the best markets in the country’s solar energy.
But in DC like the rest of the country, low-income residents and people of color have been disproportionately excluded from the solar market. Solar for All has helped address some of these inequities, as Ward 8 now leads the district in solar power generation per megawatt.
But NAACP DC branch president Akosua Ali stressed that this was only part of the solution.
“Solar for All is really designed for low to moderate income households in the district, so it neglects to address the middle class,” Ali said. “Without providing affordable solar solutions to middle-class residents, it further exacerbates the black wealth gap.”
Solar power, like many home improvement investments, perpetuates wealth inequality, as households with capital to spend on the initial cost of installation end up saving money. over time. However, the price of solar panels has fallen over the past decade and almost everyone has the opportunity to exploit the opportunities of solar energy, even if buying panels is not in the cards.
Solar for all
Sylvie Simo, a Cameroonian immigrant and former nurse, counts as another homeowner who received free solar panels as part of the Solar for all program after struggling with energy bills as high as $500 per month.
“I have two children with asthma, so when it’s too hot they can’t go without air conditioning,” Simo said. “My air conditioning was working 24 hours a day.”
Joining Solar for All in 2020 has allowed Simo’s family to breathe and now his energy bills are down to less than $100 a month.
Currently, about 6,500 district residents are participating in Solar for All, and the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) hopes to reach 100,000 total households by 2032. But most of those registrants will not be single-family owners like Cole and Simo. The Solar for All program also provides tenants with access to “community solar” where subscribers receive cheaper energy from shared solar installations located throughout the district.
“Anyone with a Pepco account can enjoy solar benefits because we are all connected to the same system,” said DOEE Energy Program Specialist Jennifer Johnston.
Like participants on the single-family side of Solar for All, community solar subscribers pay nothing to join and save about $500 a year on their energy bills. The the income limit to benefit from Solar for All depends on the size of the household but starts at $79,500 for a one-person household or $91,100 for a 2-person household. Qualifying for certain other benefits also makes residents eligible for Solar for All (the full list can be found on the DOEE website).
Private community solar option for tenants
As Ali pointed out, most of the DC government’s efforts to help households access solar energy focus only on low-income residents. But private community solar options exist outside of Solar for All in the District and Maryland, though they don’t typically bring as much money to user bills.
“The way it works is that customers subscribe to a local solar project, and then when that project generates electricity, they earn credits on their bill,” said Richard Caperton, vice president of policy development. and the market at clean energy software company Arcadia.
In Arcadia’s community solar model, monthly subscriber fees are calculated as a percentage of what users have saved on their energy bill.
“So if the customer gets $100 in credits, they would pay, say, $90 for the month,” Caperton said.
Different community solar programs will have different payment structures, and as with any subscription, consumers should read the contracts carefully before signing up. groups like EnergyWise and Solar United Neighbors offer online resources and free consultations to help people understand solar contracts.
This article is the first in a two-part series on solar energy access. For more information on ways to reduce the cost of buying or renting rooftop solar panels for homeowners, check out next week’s edition.