by Deidre Bannon
Current Newspapers correspondent
Reprinted, with permission, from the May 6th edition of the Northwest Current. Download the newspaper here.
As Washington springs forward into the summer months, two local communities are looking to harness the sun’s power by installing solar panels on homes. In Ward 2, about 50 residents have formed a solar co-op and are seeking bids from local solar panel installers. And in Ward 3, the Van Ness East Condominium is about to install a rooftop solar thermal and photovoltaic system that will provide a portion of the building’s electricity and hot water.
The solar energy system at 2939 Van Ness St. will be the largest of its kind on a multifamily dwelling in the District, according to Harry Richter, the building’s general manager. And it won’t cost the condo owners a dime.
The condo board contracted with Nextility for the project. The company, headquartered in the District, installs solar-energy systems on rooftops with no installation or maintenance costs, and then it sells the energy produced to residents in that building at a price lower than what is available from the public utility companies
“We saw this as a great opportunity to get into a sustainable energy program at no additional cost to the association, with savings to begin the first day of operation, and we wanted to take advantage of the financing opportunity that might not last forever,” said Richter.
About 600 residents in the 12-story building with 433 units expect to see a 50 percent drop in their water heating costs and a 25 percent drop in electricity costs. The solar panel installation was completed last week, and after a few minor adjustments it should be up and running by next week.
Richter said the condo board took a long view on sustainable energy when deciding to have the solar panels installed. Because of the District’s energy benchmarking regulations, buildings over 50,000 square feet must report their annual electricity, gas and water usage to the city.
Some expect the D.C. Department of the Environment will eventually use that data to decide how much energy a building should use and impose a surcharge on buildings that exceed the amount. By installing the panels, the condo is betting that it will come out on top, Richter said.
The condo board hopes to expand the building’s use of sustainable energy and is looking into several further options: implementing a geothermal heating and cooling system, installing a microgrid to supply the entire building’s electricity needs, and using the solar panels to heat the swimming pool, which could enable residents to enclose it for year-round use, Richter added.
Meanwhile, in Ward 2, the solar co-op was formed with the help of DC Solar United Neighborhoods, a nonprofit that helps neighbors leverage their collective buying power to get a bulk discount on installing solar panels. By going solar as a group, residents can save upward of 30 percent of the cost, said Ben Delman, spokesperson for the organization, known as DC SUN.
The Ward 2 co-op is currently receiving bids from installers and will remain open to new members through June 30 at dcsun.org.
“Besides helping consumers get a better price on solar panels, we provide technical assistance to help make the process less complicated,” said program director Grant Klein. “Some bids are five pages long and others are 105 pages. We know homeowners aren’t experts on solar-panel installation.”