DC SUN comments in support of RPS expansion

By Ben Delman on May 23, 2016

The D.C. City Council is considering legislation that would expand the District’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). D.C.’s current RPS requires that the local utility procure 20% of its electricity from renewable sources and 2.5% of its electricity from solar by 2023. This law created the District’s market for renewable energy credits (RECs). Solar owners can sell RECs to help pay off the cost of their system. D.C.’s RPS has been instrumental in growing the District’s solar market and expanding solar access across the city.

The proposed legislation (Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016, DC – B650) would increase the RPS to 50% by 2032 and the carve out for solar to 5%. Today, DC SUN offered the following testimony in favor of this bill.

Good morning members of the Council. My name is Emma Rodvien, and I am here today on behalf of DC SUN, a local nonprofit that helps D.C. residents go solar by organizing group solar installations. I’ve come today in support of the proposed Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act. We at DC SUN believe that solar energy is READY TO GROW in the District and ready to HELP GROW the District economy.

The proposed RPS Expansion requires 5% of District electricity be solar generated by 2032, a target that is wholly feasible for the District.

A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) estimates the District’s total suitable roof space for rooftop solar to be 118 million square feet, on which solar panels could generate 15% of DC’s total electricity needs. The DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) offers similar approximations. By these estimates, District rooftop solar capacity is three times greater than what is needed to comply with a 5% solar carve-out. In other words, District roofs can easily and presently accommodate expanded solar generation.

Take, for example, the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Through the efforts of the Mt. Pleasant Solar Co-op, Mt. Pleasant quickly became DC’s most solar-heavy neighborhood, with hundreds of rooftop solar arrays. Nearly 90% of all its rooftops can accommodate rooftop solar, and yet still, Mt. Pleasant sees only 10% of its roofs hosting arrays. This local anecdote illustrates the massive potential for solar electricity generation here in D.C.

As the Council debates how to proceed with the proposed RPS Expansion, I would like to highlight one energizing fact: the work of growing solar in our city has already begun. As of April 2016, there were more than 4,000 solar energy systems feeding over 39 MW of electricity into the city’s grid. Now, a great many of these solar systems have been installed by individuals personally committed to charting their city’s solar energy future. DC SUN helps unite these individuals into networks of community-based solar co-ops, creating the building blocks for a grassroots solar movement. By deepening the political framework for solar deployment, an increased RPS will magnify this grassroots momentum on a much greater, much needed scale.

In addition to being undoubtedly feasible, expanded solar electricity generation will offer dynamic economic benefits to the District. These include greater local retention of wealth and permanent job creation. In recent years, District residents and businesses have spent over $1.5 billion on electricity per year, 90% of which leaves the local economy. By virtue of being generated locally and maintained locally, solar electricity allows much more of the District’s energy budget to stay within the city, and creates a localized renewable energy job force.

So, let’s consider the solar energy targets set forth by the proposed RPS Expansion. To meet the 5% solar carve-out, the District will need to generate hundreds more MW of solar electricity beyond the 39 MW currently installed. What will that expansion of distributed solar generation mean for the city? Thousands of new jobs, tens of millions of dollars in additional economic activity, and massive solar-related cost savings from improved grid resiliency.

Now, one of the components of the proposed RPS Expansion that most excites DC SUN is its prioritization of low-income solar programming. DC SUN has long been committed to creating equitable access to solar technologies, and we are pleased that the proposed legislation will formalize expanded low-income solar programming here in the District.

Through our years of leadership in the field, DC SUN has learned that successful low-income solar programming hinges upon a key feature: project continuity. Too often, well-meaning low-income solar campaigns see their efforts constrained by sporadic policy and inconsistent project leadership or funding. Together, these limitations preclude effective community engagement by making it difficult for community organizations to build long-term partnerships with program administrators. This is especially harmful in low-income communities, where local participation in development policy has been historically limited. So, if the goal of low-income solar is to not only power these communities with solar energy, but rather to empower them through energy ownership and savings, then facilitating community partnerships is of the utmost importance.

DC SUN is encouraged by the policy consistency we have seen in the proposed Solar for All program, and we recommend that final legislation:

  • give direction to how funds are spent, without being prescriptive
  • broaden its scope of funded projects/partners to include: low income housing developers, and community solar facilities
  • open participation to all households afflicted by high energy burdens, through an incremental increase in income qualifications over the project’s lifetime.

To conclude, solar energy is expanding quickly across the city, with support from thousands of residents in all eight wards. DC SUN urges the council to enact the RPS Expansion Amendment Act to further this momentum. Thank you.