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Posted at 6:53 PM ET, 10/30/2010

Solar D.C.'s newest power couple

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Anya Schoolman and Jefferson Morley
Washington

Dear President and Mrs. Obama:

Now that it has been announced that solar panels will soon return to the roof of the White House, we write to welcome you to the ranks of solar homes in Washington. You are just the latest of the more than 100 D.C. families that have gone solar this year. On behalf of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop, we invite you to join our group or one of the other 11 other solar cooperatives that have formed across the city.

There are good reasons to join. We know that going solar can be a bit confusing. We are a group of about 300 families living in Mount Pleasant, just a mile and half straight up 16th Street from your house. Seventy of our members have already done what you are doing now.

We find that those in our member families usually become energy-literate -- all of them, no matter their age. Not only will Sasha and Malia start turning out the lights, they may have some energy-saving tips for their carbon-dependent parents. Listen to them.

As co-op members, you'll have a circle of neighbors who can give useful -- and free -- advice about how to get the best solar service. You will also learn about the challenges facing all solar homeowners in the city, from Petworth to Palisades to Anacostia to Columbia Heights. Here are a few that are likely to be at the top of the list:

Net metering. Once 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. becomes partly solar-powered, your house will be "tied to the grid." That means when the sun is shining, you will use the power you get from your panels. When it isn't, you will draw all your power from the regional grid. Because you live in the District, your house will have net metering. For every kilowatt hour of electricity you produce, you will get a 1-to-1 credit on your Pepco bill.

What's not so good is this: If your house were to reach the point that it produced more solar than it used, your power turns into a gift to Pepco. That's right. Your excess solar power flows into the grid, and Pepco will sell it for its own profit. At least that is how the rules are written right now. We need to change that.

Your new meter. As a solar home, you will get a two-way meter for your photovoltaic system. Our advice: Expect problems. Some of our members have had to wait weeks, even months, simply to get the meter installed.

Make sure your smart meter really is smart. Since you are the first family, Pepco might install a brand-new "smart meter" at the White House. That sounds good, but Pepco tells us that the new smart meters won't work with solar power unless they get a special chip inserted and are reprogrammed. Based on our experience with net meters, we are pretty skeptical that this is going to be easy. If you get a smart meter, please let us know if it is smart enough for solar.

One more benefit. You should know about solar renewable energy credits, also known as SRECs. They can put money in your pocket (or money in the kids' college savings account). Here's how:

In 2005, the D.C. Council passed a law requiring that Pepco obtain 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. To meet the standard, Pepco buys credits for the production of renewable energy from solar homes like yours. The prices that utility companies are willing to pay for SRECs go up and down as the rules and markets change. Right now D.C.'s SREC prices are dropping, which is a real problem for solar owners.

The solution, we think, is to establish a national renewable portfolio standard that will ensure a stable SREC market all over the country. It's a complicated issue, and we welcome your thoughts.

So congratulations on your new panels. We think you will discover that going solar is the beginning and not the end of the process. Joining a solar co-op makes it easier and more fun. Sign up today, and welcome!

Anya Schoolman and Jefferson Morley co-founded the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop in 2006. The authors can be reached at Solarcoop@yahoo.com.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | October 30, 2010; 6:53 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., economy, energy, environment  
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Comments

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Posted by: brianjeff01 | November 1, 2010 5:43 AM | Report abuse

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