Wednesday, May 15, 2013

READY to Go Solar?
Been thinking about it for a while? Know someone who should really do it?
The prices are really low!
This may be the last year of a grant of the DC Government
Neighbors are getting together buying in bulk!
We are helping each other through the process. Selecting an installer and helping each other make each decision along the way. Talk to people who have been through the process already. Make an impact! Do something real! Become more self sufficient!

This is easy....

Go through the process now, you will never regret it. There is nothing like that first Pepco bill after going solar!


Upcoming Meetings

May: Ward 4 Meeting (Petworth)
Monday, May 20th
7:30 to 8:30 PM
Petworth Library (Large Meeting Room)
4200 Kansas Ave NW, Washington, DC 20011.

June: Ward 1 Meeting (Mt. Pleasant & Columbia Heights)

Saturday, June 1st 
2:00 PM
Mt. Pleasant Library
3160 16th St NW  
Washington, DC 20010

Meeting Info and Sign UP 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Last Chance To Get a Solar Rebate in Washington DC?

In the last week, I had four different friends ask me what they needed to do to go solar.  I thought it was a good time to send out an update on the DC Rebate Program and the economics of solar.  Here are the basics.

Getting a Solar Rebate in Washington DC
  • The District of Columbia's original 4-year Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) came to an end in 2012.  Those that were able to get in on this program got a very sizable rebate at the beginning of the program, and those at the end received a good rebate, but at about half the amount originally offered.
  • DC has decided to continue with a rebate program in 2013 (which also includes solar thermal), but again, the rebate amounts have been cut substantially.
  • Recent drops in solar panel prices have somewhat offset the drop in the DC rebate amount.
  • The market for solar renewable energy credits (sRECS) remains strong in DC, meaning that the combination of sRECs, the available 30% Federal tax credit and the DC rebate continues to make solar an attractive investment. 
  • All signs seem to point to the gradual phase-out of rebates as panel prices fall and solar comes much closer to grid parity (when solar generation costs are equal to other non-renewable sources).
  • Even if you have not completely decided to go solar, you should put your name on the waiting list for the DC Rebate program.  You can decline later if you decide not to move ahead.  When applying for the rebate, if you have not yet selected a contractor, you can indicate on the application that you are with the DC Solar United Neighborhood (DC SUN) cooperative.  See for more about going solar, finding a contractor and applying for a DC Rebate.
  • Most homeowners are putting on systems that are in the range of 3-6kW.  Installed systems can be found below $4 per watt.
  • A very simplified cost scenario for a 4kW system goes as follows -- $16,000 system cost - which would receive a $2,000 DC Rebate, a $4,800 Federal Tax credit, and more than $4,200 in sRECs.  Considering rebates and subsidies, out of pocket expenses fall to $5,000.  Your electricity bill would be reduced by more than $600 per year.  Under this scenario, your break even point would be about 8 years.  Finding a contractor a bit cheaper than $4 per watt, and selling your sRECs on a quarterly basis (rather than an up front lump sum) might shave that break even point down to about 5 years.
  • Some companies will offer leases if you are not able to pay for or finance your system. 
More About the DC Rebate

Looking back out the DC Rebate program, it was a bumpy road in regard many aspects of the program.  Solar advocates in DC had to keep fighting each year to ensure that dedicated funds were not raided for other purposes.  However, in the end, more than 700 projects were funded by the DC Department of Environment (a small amount of additional rebates, not included in the table below, were issued by the DC Sustainable Energy Utility). 

DC Renewable Energy Incentive Program 2009 -2012:
Fiscal Year Funded
System Type
# of Incentives
Capacity (MW)
Incentive Amount


It looks like 2013 might turn out to be the highest year in regard to systems receiving rebates.  There are currently, 386 people on the waiting list for photovoltaic systems (link).  DC indicated that rebate offers would begin going out in February 2013, so some people on the waiting list may be getting approval letters.  The funding levels are as follows: 

For calendar year 2013, DDOE will offer  the following solar incentives:
·         $0.50/watt for photovoltaic systems, with a cap of  $10,000 (equivalent to a 20kW)
·         20% of total system cost up to $2,000 for residential thermal and,
·         20% of total system cost up to $6,000 for non-residential thermal systems

The REIP was given $1 million in the Sustainable DC Act of 2012, so assuming an average rebate of $2,500 per system, there will be 400 rebates available.  Assuming there is no other funding available, now would be a good time to get on the Waiting List.

Lastly, if you live in MD, you may be able to get a state rebate.  sREC prices in MD are much lower than in DC.  If you are in VA, solar incentives are very poor, but you can ask the governor to fix that using this petition.  

Mike Barrette

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is Now the Time for a New Solar Hot Water System?

The number of solar electricity-producing homeowners in the District of Columbia now reach close to one thousand.  The main reason DC residents have flocked to solar electric was the rebate program that has been available through the DC Department of the Environment.  While solar electric installations have become commonplace and widely discussed, you don't hear too much about solar hot water - until now.  Earlier this year, DC changed the rules of its solar rebate program to include a solar hot water rebate equal to 20% of the system's cost.  Because there are no guarantees this rebate will last beyond 2012, many homeowners are taking a crash course in the basics of solar hot water -- trying to decide whether to get in on the rebate before it disappears.  On June 25th, several Capitol Hill neighbors along with two solar hot water installers put on a city-wide public meeting about solar hot water technology, installation costs and available subsidies.  The meeting marked the first effort by DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DCSUN) to negotiate price discounts for solar hot water installations.  Materials from the meeting are now available at  Below are some highlights, but much more information is available on the website.

To kick off the meeting, I provided some photos of the new solar hot water system that I had installed in May 2012.  Like most solar enthusiasts in the District, I started out with solar electric.  However, I made sure that my contractor left enough room for later installation of solar hot water panels.  I was able to save some money on the solar hot water installation because the mounting supports for my solar electric were pre-designed to also support the solar hot water panels.  I can now check my new (very large) solar hot water tank to see how well the sun is doing -- it has been reading at about 120-140 degrees depending on the time of day.  Goodbye cold showers!  My family loves the new system because I'm not bugging them about saving enough hot water for everyone to shower.  My old (and small) gas powered water tank is still intact as a back-up, but especially in the summer, we won't need to fire that up at all.

Resident Capitol Hill solar guru, Andy Kerr, also had a solar hot water system installed earlier this year.  He has developed a nice presentation explaining the initial cost of his system, the rebates that he was eligible for (the DC rebate, a 30% Federal tax credit and the sale of solar renewable energy credits), and the return on investment that he expects from his system.  Because solar hot water systems need to be sized to the hot water needs you may have, Andy has also developed a spreadsheet allowing you to punch in your own numbers to calculate the economics of solar hot water.  In his case, he paid about $8,500, but with the three rebates, his cost dropped to about $3,000 -- which works out to an 8 year simple payback, and a 7.7% return on investment over 20 years.

Andy's calculations will now get slightly better because DC SUN has developed a partnership with two vendors, Solar Energy Services and Clean Currents.  Both companies are offering additional discounts of between $100 and $400 for homeowners affiliated with DC SUN or local co-op chapters.  For each contract signed with DC SUN members, both companies have generously offered to donate to DC SUN's EmPowerment Fund that helps provide solar grants to low-income families.

Please take a look at the materials on the website and decide for yourself whether solar hot water will be in your future.  As we advised with solar electric installations, it is always good to get multiple bids before jumping into a purchase.  If you are on the fence and need more time, we recommend you put your name on the list for a DC rebate while you are making your decision.  Lastly, please join our listserve from the DC SUN webpage, where you can post questions and help us start a new dialogue on solar thermal.

Mike Barrette

Monday, June 25, 2012

DC SUN Holding Forum on Solar Hot Water

DC residents have really embraced solar photovoltaic systems - more than 500 systems have gone up throughout the District.  There is much less information out there about solar hot water - although by most accounts, solar hot water may be an even better investment than solar PV.  Several homeowners that have recently installed solar hot water will be coming together to discuss their experiences, and put interested residents in touch with solar hot water installers.  The meeting is Tuesday, June 26th at 7pm at Headquarters DC, 528 F Street Terrace SE, Washington, DC 20003 - which is just a few blocks away from the Eastern Market Metro.  I hope you will be able to join other members of DC SUN and the Capitol Hill Energy Coop -- the two organizations sponsoring this forum.  Please note that the DC government has just opened a limited window for getting solar thermal rebates, so if you are thinking about it, now is the time to educate yourself.  More information and a map are at this link... 

On the agenda is a discussion by Joanna Kendig and Gene Imhoff about the solar hot water system they have had for several years.  Andy Kerr will then discuss the economics and payback for solar hot water.  Matt Carlson of Sunnovations will discuss the technology of solar hot water, then two installers, Solar Energy Services and Clean Currents will discuss their capabilities and discounts that will be available to co-op members.  This meeting is open to the public and no pre-registration is required.  I hope to see you there.

Mike Barrette
Vice President - DC Solar United Neighborhoods

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Solar Thermal Rebates added to the Mix for DC residents

The District of Columbia has announced a rebate for solar thermal - something that has been in the works for quite some time.  With the new 20% DC rebate, the available 30% Federal tax credit, and the solar renewable energy credits (srecs) that you can sell -- the three subsidies will pay for a large chunk of your system.  Your energy savings from reduced hot water or space heating will quickly allow you to quickly recoup your investment.

Because of the previous DC rebate structure, many residents opted to go for solar photovoltaic panels first (or instead of solar thermal).  For those that have available room left on your roof, now is the chance to move out solar thermal.  It is unclear how long the window will be open for DC rebates.  What I've been told by the Department of the Environment is that approximately $150,000 of the $2 million available for solar rebates in 2012 will be carved out for solar thermal.  This might fund about 75 residential projects (less if funding goes to larger commercial projects).  Hopefully, this is the start of more rebates to come in future years.

According to DDOE officials, if you have recently installed a solar thermal system, you might still be eligible for a rebate - so do put your name on the waiting list.  DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN) and the Capitol Hill Energy Coop are working on some solar thermal pilot projects now, and more information will be available about those installations soon.  To learn more, below is the information sent by DDOE, along with a link to the program website where you can put your name on the waiting list.  Before moving forward, you will want to look over the new solar thermal program guide.  Also, be sure to review the list of registered, approved installers (getting multiple bids is always a good idea).   If you have questions, experiences to share on solar thermal installations, comments, or ideas on how DC SUN can leverage bulk purchases for solar thermal, please do join our discussion forum. 

Mike Barrette

DDOE email communication regarding solar thermal rebates

The District of Columbia‚s Renewable Energy Incentive Program Solar Thermal Incentive For 2012

Effective, Wednesday, April 11, 2012, and in accordance with the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008, the District Department of the Environment Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) will provide financial incentives to eligible applicants in the District to help install Solar Thermal systems.

Eligible projects may include, but are not limited to, the installation of systems on single and multi-family dwellings as well as commercial buildings and institutional organizations.

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and/or biomass can help to reduce dependence on a shrinking supply of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.     

We encourage you to apply to the program. Please visit for more information.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Expanding Access to Solar in DC

As many of you know the central mission of DC SUN is to make Solar affordable and accessible to all residents of DC. We are working on a lot of different things and we always have room for more volunteers and leaders of more projects and initiatives. ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY they must go together.

To give a sense of a few highlights.

1. Community Solar Legislation:
This is our big push right now. In partnership with the Sierra Club and with technical assistance from Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) we are working to make it possible to develop solar gardens. It will let people who live in apartments or rent participate in community solar gardens and "virtually" net meter their solar production to their energy bill. For more info see DC SUN website . Stay tuned for more updates soon!

2. Community emPOWERment Fund:
This fund is made up of 'referral fees' from many of the installers that have a close working relationship with our members. The money goes to help non-profits, churches, schools and independent businesses go solar. It has the potential of helping reduce costs for organizations that our essential to our local communities. We are working with a number of non-profits based in Ward 8 that provide basic services such as food, childcare and medical services.

3. Non Profit Bulk Purchase:
We are Developing a bulk purchase program for non-profits that want to go solar. By working together we will lower costs for all of the participants. We have been focusing mostly on organizations in Wards 7 and 8 but the project is open to non-profits city wide.

4. REBATE Program Phase II: We have proposed to the DDOE and the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) to develop a second phase solar rebate program for FY 13. We feel that we need to take care of the hundreds of people on the waiting list, AND we have proposed that 50% of the new rebate program be a higher level of reimbursement and be reserved exclusively with low income families. Combined with the Community Solar legislation-- this has the potential to expand solar much more broadly in DC

5. Proposals to the DC SEU: The DC SEU is supposed to develop programs specifically aimed at low income solar. We have been pushing them to engage with us in developing those programs. DC SUN met with the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and began discussions on ways to collaborate directly. We will be participating in their outreach fair this Spring and we are discussing the exciting possibility of adding solar to their low income roof replacement program. We have proposed to the SEU that they partner with DHCD to make this project a reality. It is a perfect match as DHCD has all of the administrative programs in place for low income roof replacement and the DC SEU has u- allocated funding for low income solar. DHCD is very enthusiastic about this idea. So far we have not gotten a response back from the SEU or DDOE which approves SEU programs.

6. Outreach in Ward 7: Ward 7 has been our top priority for outreach this year. We have worked in partnership with a number of local organizers including Irv Sheffy and Dennis Chestnut. We have recruited a dynamic new leader of the Ward 7 Solar Coop and we have been conducting outreach meetings in the Ward. We are actively looking for more Ward 7 participants to join and strengthen the Ward 7 Coop. The culmination of this effort will be the June 16th Solar Fair at HD Woodson HS. Stay tuned for exciting news alerts on this initiative over the next few weeks. Voliunteers needed for this effort.

In the works:
Innovative Financing for Low Income Housing and Community Solar...
Other bulk purchase programs?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Grab Your $6,000 Solar Rebate While You Still Can!

Now is the time to get in line for a DC Solar Rebate - before the funding is gone!  Prices of solar panels are at an all-time low, making the decision to go solar a great long-term investment.  A recent comparison of solar costs in the District indicates that the return on investment from installing solar panels varies from 6-10%.  The existing 30% Federal tax credit, along with renewable energy credits that accrue with your solar project, make the economics of solar very favorable. 

Strengthening the economic case for solar even more is the District government’s rebate program.  These DC rebates are designed to encourage renewable energy and foster a new homegrown industry (jobs in DC!!).  If you are able to get in on the DC solar rebate, your rate of return rises into the double digits, and your initial investment can be paid back in 6-7 years.  For many DC homeowners on the fence about going solar, the DC rebate is the incentive that motivates them to move forward.  Below, I examine your chances of getting a DC solar rebate – and it looks like time is running out!

As background, realize that the DC rebate program is a four-year program, which is now in its last year. DC is authorized to release $2 million dollars this year for rebates.  Rebates for a typically-sized system are about $6,000.  Rebates are issued on a first-come, first-served basis from a waiting list that you can join on the DDOE Website.

Last week, I asked the DC Department of the Environment for an update on their progress for releasing those funds now that we are one quarter of the way through the fiscal year.  It is important that these projects continue to be funded at a rapid pace, otherwise the program will expire before funding is released to those on the waiting list.  DDOE reports as follows:
  •  $25,000 has been paid out (5 requestors have received checks) 
  • $598,000 are in the final approval stages (86 requestors will receive checks soon)
  • 383 additional projects are on the waiting list.
  • DDOE reports that usually about 40% of those that submit the initial application actually decide drop out of the process.

  • Assuming that 230 of the 383 people on the waiting list are funded at an average of $6,000, then the full $2 million will be expended and new entrants to the waiting list will not be funded.
  • If the average rebate award and/or the acceptance rates are higher, some at the bottom of the existing waiting list may not receive funding from the $2 million pot.
  • If the average rebate or acceptance rate is lower, new entrants to the waiting list may get funding (so act fast and get your name on the list). 

What If You Miss Out???

  • It is possible that the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) will add funding for additional solar rebates – they added a small amount last year.   
  • Community activists with DC SUN are calling upon the DC Council, Mayor, Department of Environment, and the SEU to work together to renew the DC solar rebate program for another four years.   
  • DC SUN’s proposal is discussed in this blog post.

To help demonstrate the effectiveness and interest in this program, DC SUN urges residents to put their names on the DC Renewable Energy Incentive Program Waiting List (Click Here for a step-by-step guide on how to reserve your place the list).  This will help in our effort to get this great job creating program back on track for those residents that were not able to participate in the first four years of the program.  Because the solar rebate program is funded by electricity surcharges that are NOT scheduled to go away, DC SUN thinks that the extension of the program is an important way to promote a sustainable future for DC -- a future that involves renewable power coming from the people of the City.

Mike Barrette
Vice President - DC SUN