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Solar News

Solar Cooperatives: Going Solar One Neighborhood at a Time


Mount Pleasant in Washington, D.C. Shows a Solar Way

September 21, 2009

There are several significant challenges facing someone who is interested in going solar. The cost of the array, which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars looms as a major hurdle. The panels may be expensive and you may not have the finances to support going green. The second challenge is simply the process and procedures. It is very confusing even for the most committed because most of the programs are relatively young and the people who are in charge of the various bureaucracies do not have a lot of experience. Finding out about local regulations, building codes, tax credits, utility rebates all involves work.  A neighborhood right in SolarTown's backyard here in Washington, D.C. formed a solar cooperative to battle against these problems.

According to the Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop press release,

"This fall nearly 50 home owners of this racially and economically mixed urban enclave will install rooftop solar installations, according to the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative, a neighborhood group that organized the effort.

"The new solar installations will cut the carbon energy consumption of the participating homes by 25-40 percent and spare the earth's atmosphere an estimated 271,000 pounds of airborne carbon every year, according to Coop President Anya Schoolman. With each solar array expected to last 25 years, Mt. Pleasant is now on a path to cutting its carbon emissions by 6.7 million pounds over the next 25 years."

In a recent interview, the Coop's founder, Anya Schoolman, discussed the way her neighborhood approached the idea of going solar.

"Taking your neighborhood solar is a three-part challenge. The first part is community organizing: getting lots of different people to commit to a course of action for the common good. The second part is entrepreneurship: taking risks, in terms of time and money, in order to reap rewards. The third part is salesmanship: convincing your friends and neighbors to invest a nice chunk of change in the future of the planet."

The project has gained much publicity and an interview with the other founder, Jeff Morley, was recently featured in Scientific American's 60-Second Solar.  He discusses the process the coop went through to get started and confirmed that 49 homes in the coop have signed contracts to install the solar panels. Morley says there are two main concepts important to know when going solar:

"The first was the Renewable Energy Credit (REC). A REC represents 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity production from a renewable energy source. With state and local governments mandating that utilities generate more power from renewable sources, those utilities are willing to buy solar generated powers from individual homeowners in order to meet the government-imposed goals.

"The second key concept was the Alternative Compliance Fee (ACF). The ACF is what utilities have to pay if they don't comply with renewable energy standards. With a relatively low ACF, Pepco was simply willing to pay a fine rather than purchase RECs. By lobbying D.C. City Council to raise the ACF, we bolstered the price of the RECs and protected this new income stream for our members."

This coop is a great example of how change can happen at the individual level.  If it only takes one small neighborhood to cut their carbon emissions by 6.7 million pounds, imagine the amount of carbon that could be saved if more neighborhoods got together and worked to invest in solar energy.