How expanding solar will help feed D.C. families

By Ben Delman on July 1, 2016
Capital Area Food Bank helping more families with solar
Capital Area Food Bank helping more families with solar

The Capital Area Food Bank provides meals to more than 500,000 people annually. Solar energy plays an important role in helping it serve so many. The organization has a 250 solar panel system installed on its roof. It saves the organization about $1,500 per month. This helps them provide an additional 45,000 meals per year. Legislation passed by the City Council will increase the organization’s ability to provide food to those in need by making its solar system more valuable.

In June, the Council passed an expansion of the District’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The bill requires that by 2032, our local utility procure half of the electricity it sells from renewable sources. There is also a carve out for a 5% solar requirement over this same time period.

Under D.C.’s RPS law, a utility can meet the requirement by purchasing what are known as renewable energy credits (RECs). If the utility does not meet the standard, it is forced to pay a penalty. This is known as an alternative compliance payment (ACP). The new RPS bill extends the length of time D.C.’s ACP will remain at $500. This extension will mean utilities will buy RECs at higher prices. This will incentivize more people and organizations to go solar to help the District meet its renewable energy goal.

RECs are essentially the ‘green value’ of the electricity generated from renewable sources, such as solar. Solar owners, like the Capital Area Food Bank, can generate income from their systems by selling the RECs to utilities. The new legislation, by maintaining the higher ACP, increases the value of these credits, making them more profitable to sell.

This is why David Jones, the ‎Facility Manager at Capital Area Food Bank testified recently about his organization’s solar panels and how they help them meet the needs for of their clients. He described how the organization’s solar system allows them to serve more families at the group’s DC Family market sites. He said these sites provide fresh, healthy produce and non-perishable goods.

Jones estimates under the new RPS, the Capital Area Food Bank will be able to generate roughly $80,000 per year in RECs. He says he sees a lot of potential for non-profits with an expanded RPS. His own organization is looking to expand several programs including nutritional education, after school programs, and brown bag sites for seniors.

“We plan to educate our nonprofit partners about the benefits of going solar,” Jones said. “So they can save on their energy bills, as well as educate their clients.”