Sunday, July 14, 2013

notes from the Ward 5 solar co-op meeting held on Wednesday, 07-10-2013

Recall the Wednesday, July 10, 2013 meeting in Eckington coordinated by Bryan Szalwinski on "starting/restarting a solar co-op in Ward 5" ?

See Bryan's notes from that meeting below:

What does having a neighborhood co-op mean?

DC-SUN (Solar United Neighborhoods) is essentially a group of ward-based co-ops.  Co-op in this sense means people who have come together to do a group purchase of solar PV systems for their own home.  Each individual household owns their own system, so the term co-op is used a little loosely, it’s more convenient to say “co-op” than “group of people who went in together to get a bulk purchase discount from a solar installer and who still occasionally meet or exchange ideas online about their solar systems”.

A DC-SUN ward group holds meetings with anyone in the neighborhood interested in solar, no particular meeting schedule is required, some meet once or twice a year

The head of each ward’s group meets 4x a year with the other ward leaders

Occasionally people in the group are called on to talk to their council member about an issue related to solar.

The shorter-term reason to form a group is to set up a bulk purchase.  DC-SUN is trying to do a bulk purchase in every ward this year, one ward per month.  Last year they did bulk purchases in an ad-hoc manner; whenever 5 or more people came together and wanted to try to get a good deal on solar installation, DC-SUN would help set something up.  They’re trying to do things in a more structured way this year for a few reasons:

1)     by keeping the participants to one particular area, the idea is that the installers will have less travel time and costs, resulting in better/cheaper bids for us.
2)     keep the number of participants down in each bulk purchase – the target number would be about 20-30 households; any more than that and the fear is that there are only one or two installers that could bid on a proposal for a group that large, thus the bids may be less competitive.
3)     DC-SUN really wants active groups in each ward for political reasons – if one council member needs to be contacted, they would like to have reliable groups in every ward where at least a few people would be willing to contact their council member

How would a bulk purchase work?  Again, the target would be about 20-30 participants but even groups of as few as 5 people have gotten good deals.  Here’s what would happen:

We’d have maybe one or two more neighborhood meetings between now and September to try to get the word out, clarify any issues that people have, allow people to ask general questions.   We could also set up a google group for easy exchange of information.  In early September, a meeting where more specific questions and issues would be handled, every detail would be gone over as thoroughly as you want.  At any time in the process if you are convinced you are ready to purchase a system you can sign up with DC-SUN on a link that they’ve already set up (see the bottom of these notes). 

Once you have signed up with DC-SUN, they do a preliminary screening via Google Earth to see about how big your roof is, how much shading you have and what size system you could potentially install.  You also answer questions about the condition of your roof, etc.  If you don’t meet DC-SUN’s criteria they will set your request aside and work with you to figure out what you need to do to optimize your house for solar installation.

As a group, we will decide what is important to us as far as installation of our systems; for example, do we value price, or DC-based companies, or US-made panels more, etc.   The list of addresses and estimated potential system sizes is then given to a number of local solar installers who are invited to submit bids to the group.  A selection committee made up of a few members of the bulk purchase group reviews the bids and selects ONE installer.  You then will get a specialized bid from that installer and sign your own individual contract with the company.



Besides the environmental incentive of owning your own renewable energy system there are a number of financial incentives that make solar PV affordable
1)     Over its 20-25 year lifetime, a system will generate thousands of dollars worth of electricity.  The value depends on the size, and since it’s not something you receive up front, it’s hard to talk about in regard to financing a system, but know that it’s thousands of dollars.
2)     1:1 net metering.  What does this mean?  Once your system is installed, it is tied into the grid.  Whenever you generate more electricity than you produce, your electricity flows through your meter, out to the grid and powers someone else’s house or business.  You get a credit for every kWH (kilowatt-hour) that your system provides to the grid.  When your system produces less electricity than you need, you consume electricity from the grid and are charged for it.  At the end of the month PEPCO figures out how much you sent to the grid and how much you took from it, and only charges you for the difference between what you took from PEPCO and what you gave them.  Sounds obvious, but in some jurisdictions this is NOT the case.  Fortunately in ours it is
3)     DC Grant.  It’s tenuous in that it may not exist after Sept 30 and even if you get on the waiting list you might not be funded.  The good news (in a way) is that it’s the smallest part of the incentive structure – you can get $0.50 per installed watt.  A typical small system is 3 kilowatts, so you’d get $1,500 from DC if the grant hangs around.  You can get on the waiting list now; go to the DC-SUN website (google DC-SUN, it’s the first link that comes up), they have the form and an instruction sheet for how to fill out the form because apparently it doesn’t make any sense.
Low Income residents (not sure what the criteria is) are eligible for a $3.00 per installed watt credit.  This makes installing solar pretty much a no-brainer, so if anyone who is interested might qualify for the low income credit, you should let DC-SUN know you are eligible and DC-SUN will walk you through the process.  You may not even need to go in for the bulk discount because the DC credit ends up being quite large and may result in a solar system at no net cost to you.
4)     Federal Tax Credit.  You get back 30% of the total cost of the system BEFORE other incentives like the DC grant.  You still have to pay up front for the system but when you file your 2013 taxes in early 2014, you will receive a 30% CREDIT (not a deduction) from the federal government.

It is not available for rental houses, but if you have a rental you may have other incentives at your disposal like accelerated depreciation or other things that I know nothing about.

5)     The most complicated incentive is the SREC or Solar Renewable Energy Credit.  The easiest way of thinking about this is whenever you generate solar electricity from your system, you are also generating an abstract “green value” of your electricity.  Through law and regulation, this abstract concept becomes worth something called an SREC.  You can either sign your rights away to all the SRECs your system will ever generate and get a cash payment from your installer (which ends up being a discount applied against the cost of your system).  Right now that up-front one-time cash payment is $1200/kW installed.

OR, you can keep your SRECs and sell them as they accrue through brokers like or   In the long run it is generally believed that this will get you more money, but is riskier than just taking an up front payment.  Every time your system produces 1,000 kWH of electricity, you get one SREC.

The longer version of the SREC story is that PEPCO is required to put a certain amount of solar PV production on the grid.  For whatever reason they don’t actually do this, so instead they can buy SRECs to satisify the solar requirement.  Due to laws/regulations, the value of an SREC should hold steady until 2016, after which it will likely drop in value.
6)     Bulk purchase discount.  DC-SUN is about to set up two bulk purchases, but they otherwise haven’t done one since last year.  Last year they were getting discounts in the range of 20% of the total system cost.

Example for a 3 KW system:  price before incentives: $13,500
DC incentive grant ($0.50/watt) - $1500
Federal tax credit (30% of system cost):  -4050*
SREC upfront payment ($1200/kW):  -3600
Bulk Purchase Discount:  about 20%   -2500
Total cost after incentives:  $2750
* There was some discussion about whether the federal tax credit would be on the cost of the system AFTER the bulk purchase discount, if that’s the case the federal tax credit would be slightly lower and the net cost after incentives would be a little higher.


A question some people have is: “What can I do if I live in a condo?”

Right now, your options are limited.  If you have a single boiler in your condo for hot water, your condo association can install a solar thermal system.  This is probably the easiest thing to do, there is a company called skyline innovations that will install a system at no cost and then charge you for the heat the system generates.  This cost is purported to be less than gas/electricity.

If you have a common area that is on its own meter, you could install a solar system just for the common area.  Not sure if that would be eligible for the 30% federal tax credit or the DC grant.

The DC Community Renewable Energy Act is likely to pass in September.  Once it does, anyone in DC, regardless of whether they have an appropriate roof, will be able to buy into a solar project anywhere in the district.  They will then receive net metering credits from PEPCO even if the solar panels are not on their house.  This is not possible now.


The prevailing opinion is that in the long run, it’s financially better to pay for your system up front and reap the benefits over the long term.  However, if you’re not able to do that, there is another option.  It’s commonly called leasing but what it really is is a power purchase agreement.

How it works is that a company will install a solar PV system on your house.  You do not receive any incentives.  No grant, no tax credit, no SRECs.  But you don’t pay anything for the system, the company owns it.  You sign a 15-20 year contract with the company agreeing to buy energy from them.  You buy whatever your system generates and whatever else you need you buy from PEPCO (you get a split bill).  Financially, it’s not a great deal but it’s not bad.  For example, right now PEPCO charges about 14 cents/kWH in total, while PPA companies charge you about 9 cents/kWH.  They also include a 2% per year escalation clause.  So you save some money, you have solar electricity, but the system is not yours and you have a long term contract with a company.

Other issues….if you have a roof that needs to be replaced, you MAY be able to get a roof-integrated solar power system, if so, you could potentially get the 30% federal tax credit on the cost of the entire roof.  Something to think hard about!

No need to completely segregate participation by ward.  If people from LeDroit Park want to join in, please invite them!  It may turn out that it’s easier for people to meet and potentially economically better if we end up with two groups anyway, one for areas like Bloomingdale/Eckington/Truxton Circle/LeDroit Park, etc, and another for neighborhoods closer to Brookland (sorry northern Ward 5 residents, I’ve only lived here a year and don’t mean to slight your area! I just don’t know what else is up there, I just know it’s a little far!)  This really will depend on how many people want to participate, if we can get 2 groups of 20, great, if not, we can all join together in one big Ward 5 group.

What next????

I won’t be able to hold any meetings or do much work on this for the next 2 weeks and DC-SUN is putting together 2 group purchases for 2 other wards in the next couple weeks.   If anyone wants to volunteer to set up the Google group or host another meeting or two before September, please feel free to get that rolling.  Otherwise, if there is anyone who is certain or nearly certain they want to join in a bulk purchase, please see below:

Also, if you have any questions, please check out

There’s a ton of information there and you can also join their google group.  Chances are someone on the group has already had your question so you might already find the answer, if not, you can pose it and within minutes a member of the group will probably reply.

Ready to go solar? Great! Please visit and fill out your contact information. Please also send (1) a copy of a recent Pepco bill, and (2) a signed copy of the Letter of Commitment to when you fill out the form. Installers need to be able to review your bill so they can size your system correctly. Question? Email Anya for more info (

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