09 Nov 2009

Solar Project on the Hill Expects Sunny Spring

Photo of solar panels waiting to be installed on the Capitol Hill rooftop of Kelly Vielmo, not a Co-op member, but an early adopter of solar on the Hill. Photo by Kelly Vielmo.

Photo of solar panels waiting to be installed on the Capitol Hill rooftop of Kelly Vielmo, not a Co-op member, but an early adopter of solar on the Hill. Photo by Kelly Vielmo.

The Capitol Hill Energy Co-op’s Solar Panel Project is gearing up for its first installation of solar panels on its members’ homes.  This will enable the home to convert sunlight into electricity, lowering the members’ Pepco bills while immediately reducing the carbon footprint of their Capitol Hill homes.

More than 120 residents are on the solardc listserv, and more than a dozen are in the pilot phase, ready to begin choosing contractors.

After much deliberation, the co-op’s project has selected four preferred vendors for this first group. Josh Goldberg of Astrum Solar, one of the four contractors chosen, says the first installations are expected in the spring. The other companies selected are groSolar, Maggio Roofing (which uses thin film panels good on flat roofs for smaller systems), and Solar Solutions LLC.

The co-op project team has spent months researching laws, regulations, grants, and rebate programs which will make the solar installations possible financially, legally, and logistically for homeowners. Members depend on each other for information are constantly evolving their expertise on all matters solar; they are also happy to help others learn the lingo and the law as well . Don’t know what “photovoltaic” means or what an inverter is?  Don’t know how to do kilowatt-hour math? Then these are the folks you need to hit up for information and how-to.

“Lots of people want to go solar but don’t really know what to do. The Co-op is helping them wade through the process and get a great price. More and more people are realizing this is not just a social statement, but it is a great investment. Considering the government subsidizes more than half the cost, these systems pay for themselves in a matter of years,” says Mike Barrette, the leader of the Co-op’s solar panel project.

Hill rooftops, once it is determined that they have the right solar exposure and are not blocked by shade, can fit 2kW to more than 3kW solar roof arrays.

A 1 kW array would produce 1200 kWh (kilowatt hour) annually or 100 kWh/month on average (more production in summer than winter, but also more consumption due to air conditioning as well), volunteer member Andy Kerr has said.  You can look at your Pepco bill to see your monthly or annual kW hconsumption.

Indeed,  notes Kerr, installation of a 3kW solar panel array on a typical Capitol Hill row house’s  flat roof would cost about $24,000, and would amortize in about eight years, “considering federal tax credit, district rebate, foregone electricity purchases and solar renewable energy credit income.”

The project will announce a meeting in early December where experts will provide all the information one needs to go solar, according to Barrette.

A first preliminary step anyone can take now is to sign up for the free D.C. Home Energy Audit by the D.C. Department of the Environment.  This is a first step that can help you qualify for solar rebates.  The pre-application for a solar grant from D.C. Government asks whether you have completed an energy audit of your home. It takes six to nine weeks before the audit is complete.

After that, homeowners apply for the D.C. Renewable Energy Rebate for “prequalification application.”

The process through the regulatory and utility approvals–and in some cases, historic preservation requirements–can take time, so in order to go solar this summer, it is best to start the process now.

The Co-op’s roof project will stay on top of things, so to speak. It will evaluate the performance of the preferred vendors at the end of the spring. It will also have a solar roof our for members, much like the Mt. Pleasant Solar Co-op, the project’s mentor, of sorts, did in September, and will decide which contractors to recommend for future installations. Find out more by joining the co-op. For a chonicle of the solar roof process, including photos, by an early adopter on Capitol Hill, see Kelly Vielmo’s solar website, http://sites.google.com/site/solarenergyoncapitolhill/. So, what will it take for you to go solar?

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2 responses to “Solar Project on the Hill Expects Sunny Spring”

  1. Thanks for posting the article. The website above has a link that will allow you to join the co-op listserve.

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