DC SUN Meets with Sustainable Energy Utility

By Emily Steiver on May 16, 2011
The Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) was established by DC Council to chart a path forward for the District with regard to renewable energy and energy efficiency.  While the solar Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) has provided rebates to help more than 400 DC residents go solar, the program is set to expire next year and it is already over-subscribed.  With 440 more people on the waiting list (which has now closed due to the popularity of the program), what is next for solar incentives in DC?
Anya Schoolman, Akili West and I recently sat down with the Managing Director of the SEU to discuss this very question.  DC SUN is advocating that the SEU develop a long-term set of goals for reaching solar adoption rates that will make the District a leader in locally-produced renewable energy.  While it is important that the SEU advocate for BOTH energy efficiency AND solar energy (among other things), our message was clear – “Get out of the box quickly on solar!”  We have momentum, a diverse installer base, and a long waiting list of citizens ready to go.  DC SUN has offered to help develop ideas for a second round of REIP that can fix some of the problems we saw in round one – in particular, the lack of an independent trust fund, and uneven distribution of solar projects across all eight Wards.
It is clear that the price of solar will continue to drop, so rebates can be less generous than Round 1.  Within 4-5 years, it may be that the economics of solar will work without any DC rebate.  However, in the near term, smaller rebates are important.  Funding for solar rebates continue to come in from utility ratepayers, but there is currently no mechanism with the expiration of REIP to direct that funding to solar projects.  We need REIP Round 2 to leverage that funding and ensure continued solar growth – which we have seen double from year to year.  Because of the uncertainty regarding the rebates, many homeowners are putting projects on hold until a new program is announced.
We left the meeting with the SEU very encouraged that they understand the issues and dynamics of the solar market in DC.  They understand that stabilizing the sREC market is critical, that community involvement is a must, and that certainty in regard to future rebate programs needs to happen quickly.  That said, they are just getting off the ground and have not yet determined how to transition into programs that have been traditionally run by DDOE.  While these issues play out, we are hopeful that DC SUN will continue to have a strong voice in developing solar programming in the City.  Please comment with any thoughts you have.