D.C. Council holds hearing on proposed solar legislation

By Zach Schalk on December 14, 2017
Solar United Neighbors Executive Director Anya Schoolman testifies before the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation & the Environment on Wednesday, December 13, 2017.
Solar United Neighbors Executive Director Anya Schoolman testifies before the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation & the Environment on Wednesday, December 13, 2017.

Despite a frigid winter chill, the sun was shining on the morning of Wednesday, December 13, as dozens attended the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation & the Environment’s public hearing at the Wilson Building. On the agenda: a discussion of two new proposals to strengthen the solar market in the District and an update on one of the nation’s most ambitious attempts to share the benefits of solar with the District’s low- and moderate-income residents. The Committee’s Chair, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, lead the meeting, engaging more than a dozen public witnesses on the two bills and Solar for All, a program of the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment that seeks to provide the benefits of solar electricity to 100,000 low-income households and reduce their energy bills by 50% by 2032. The program, which was established by the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Expansion Amendment Act of 2016, is funded by the Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF). For more information about Solar for All visit: http://doee.dc.gov/solarforall.

Anya Schoolman, Executive Director at Solar United Neighbors, testified in support of both measures before the committee, while offering constructive recommendations for improvement, and provided a first-hand account of the Solar for All program from the perspective of a grantee.

One bill, the Solar Cooperative Association Expansion Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0229), would prevent home owner associations and other residential groups from arbitrarily restricting solar deployment in the District unless a provision preventing solar is clearly expressed in the organization’s bylaws. The bill responds to a problem holding back residential solar investment in the District and around the nation. While the bill can be strengthened by improving definitions and closing some potential loopholes, Solar United Neighbors strongly supports the bill and hopes to see it passed and implemented soon.

The second bill discussed at the hearing, the Solar Ready Roofs and Sustainable Development Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0437), was far more ambitious and drew more resistance from public witnesses—many of whom testified on behalf of developer interests. Solar Ready Roofs describes its intent right in the bill’s name. It would create new requirements to encourage rooftop solar deployment on new development and buildings undergoing “substantial” renovation. Smaller residential buildings would be required to include “solar-ready zones” and ensure that the roof could handle a solar system, while larger residential or commercial properties would be required to install an on-site renewable energy system capable of generating at least 10% of the building’s energy needs. While Solar United Neighbors and other proponents offered suggested improvements to strengthen the bill, the goal of requiring new development to be solar ready is an exciting prospect that would continue to strengthen D.C.’s already strong solar market.

In addition, two solar homeowners testified on the increasingly serious problem of solar air rights. This is an increasingly serious issue in which new development shades or otherwise disrupts existing solar systems. Solar United Neighbors confirmed the urgency of dealing with this issue and encouraged the D.C. Council to take action to support solar homeowners.

The hearing wrapped up with testimony from DOEE Director Tommy Wells, who provided an update on the Solar for All program, and testified in support of the intent motivating the two pieces of solar legislation being discussed—which he said largely fit within the Mayor’s commitments on climate change and renewable energy—while also encouraging certain technical revisions to strengthen implementation. Director Wells pointed out that the Solar for All program is the largest deployment of solar benefits to low income households in the country, and explained that 2017 has been a year of planning and experimentation while DOEE works with program grantees to figure out what works.

DOEE said that a stakeholder meeting for the Solar for All program will be held on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.

More resources

Full video of the hearing

Full written testimony from Solar United Neighbors Executive Director Anya Schoolman