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Solar Power Initiatives Making D.C. Region More Sustainable

This post originally appeared on RegionForward.org, the official Council of Governments blog. To see this in its original context, please visit this site.

Area leaders continue to move forward on projects to make solar power an option for more residents, businesses and local governments. We’ve previously blogged about efforts in Arlington, Frederick and Loudoun counties and in Charles County to create a strong, long-lasting solar market in metropolitan Washington.

Last month, the D.C. Council unanimously passed the Community Renewable Energy Act, which will provide greater opportunities for residents to reduce their electricity bills through solar power and advance Mayor Vincent Gray’s Sustainable DC plan.

On October 4, leaders in the District of Columbia, including Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie and David Grosso, celebrated the unveiling of a new solar hot water system in a Northeast D.C. apartment building near Fort Totten. According to officials, the system installed at One Hawaii Avenue N.E. will save more than $2,300 each year and reduce the building’s greenhouse gas emissions by almost nine tons annually. Officials also noted that Skyline Innovations, a D.C.-based solar thermal financing company that completed the project with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), has installed systems now providing hot water for two percent of the District’s residents. In the past year, the DCSEU has installed solar thermal and PV systems that will save low-income District residents $1.6 million in lifetime energy costs.

“Our recent actions are greening the economy, reducing emissions and helping create more sustainable communities,” said Councilmember McDuffie, who serves on the Council of Governments (COG) Board of Directors. “It’s exciting to see our city, and the entire metropolitan region, moving forward with so many solar projects.”

In Maryland, Governor O’Malley and Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Jon Wellinghoff, celebrated the completion of one of the nation’s first commercial solar micro grids, located at the Konterra headquarters in Laurel on October 15.  The 402 kilowatt system will provide 20 percent of the building’s annual electricity needs, two electric vehicle charging stations and LED parking lot lighting – equivalent to providing power for 57 homes each year.

According to a press release on the event, Governor O’Malley said “we invested in this project through our Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) Grant Changer Program because in Maryland we know that if we want better results, we have to make better choices. Better choices like making solar energy a priority.”

And most recently, on November 6, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission unveiled two new solar arrays that will provide power to their treatment plants in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.  The 3 megawatt system in Prince George’s is now the largest solar system in the County and will power more than 10 percent of the plant’s energy needs.

Rooftop Solar Challenge

In addition to these local actions, new developments are underway at the regional level. At its October meeting, the COG Board of Directors agreed to provide over $48,000 to support two projects that will reduce regulations and lower costs for rooftop solar systems. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative’s Rooftop Solar Challenge helps organize regional teams to make it easier and more affordable for Americans to go solar by streamlining the permit processes, updating planning and zoning codes, improving standards for connecting solar power to the electric grid and increasing access to financing.

COG’s funds will match DOE grants to Optony, a solar consulting firm, as well as a partnership between Kansas City’s Mid America Regional Council (MARC) and the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC).

Solar Roadmap

COG is also partnering with solar firms and regional groups to provide its local government members with best practices, free technical assistance and group trainings. For example, COG will work with Optony to encourage area governments to join its online Solar Roadmap platform that connects governments, utilities and consumers with the nation’s largest resource library of solar best practices and online tools. There are currently 70 participating jurisdictions around the country, with a goal of more than 200 by the end of next year. COG hopes to have all local member government members join the Solar Roadmap, which will inform a regional discussion on how to accelerate solar energy adoption across the metropolitan Washington region.

In recruiting local governments to join this effort, COG has pointed to the rapidly declining price of solar technology, as well as policy changes at federal, state and local levels that are making solar energy more cost effective and driving increasing levels of adoption. Thus far, eight local governments have pledged to join the Solar Roadmap and participate in the regional discussion on solar permitting, zoning and market development.

Solar Bulk Purchasing

COG, Optony and the EPA Green Power Partnership are also focused on brokering a solar bulk purchasing program. This program would reduce up-front costs by bundling projects for local governments. Stakeholders in the District of Columbia and Maryland are currently discussing next steps in preparation for the procurement phase of the project.

Keeping up the Region’s Momentum

COG’s Climate and Energy 2012 Progress Report shows the region is already seeing strong, measurable growth in the local solar market, and underscores the tremendous opportunity for additional progress. Between 2009 and 2012, renewable energy capacity in the region grew 600 percent, reflecting a spike in new solar power systems. The report also found that 73 percent of local governments have renewable energy systems on their property.

Taken together, these local and regional initiatives highlight metropolitan Washington’s continued leadership in green power, resiliency and sustainability. In the coming months, COG will continue to shine a light on these solar initiatives, which will be critical to achieving our Region Forward vision and attaining our sustainability goals.


Release Date: Nov 20, 2013

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