Solar Energy Goes Co-Op In D.C.

From atop Anya Schoolman’s home in Washington, D.C., you can see maybe a dozen rooftop solar power installations. From the street below, you can’t see any, as the law prescribes for the historic district. That points to just one of the challenges of putting in a home solar system in her neighborhood, challenges the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative is helping residents overcome with startling success.

The solar co-op, founded in 2006, has worked to get solar on at least 70 rooftops in the neighborhood, Schoolman said in a Youtube video in which she describes the group’s work. It has done so by sharing experience and insight, by helping people take advantage of lucrative incentives, and by advocating for pro-solar policies with utilities and government.

Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative, Washington, D.C.

image via Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative

One thing the co-op does not do is negotiate bulk pricing for its members, but because it helps inform residents about the full range of installation options, solar contractors often end up competing for business in the neighborhood. Another way the co-op makes solar more affordable is by working to protect a D.C. solar rebate program – which the group helped put in place – worth $3 per watt of installed solar capacity, up to 3,000 watts, and then $2.50  per watt up to 10,000 kilowatts.

But right now, Schoolman said in an interview, Mount Pleasant’s biggest focus is in trying to get the area’s utility, Pepco, to come up with policies that encourage integration of home solar systems into the grid. In a filing with the District of Columbia Public Service Commission, the co-op accused the utility of routinely “delaying installation of net meters” and of being unresponsive “to meter reading and billing disputes after net meters have been installed.” Oddly, even as the co-op battles with Pepco, another utility has been singing the group’s praises: MXenergy put out a press release celebrating Mount Pleasant’s successes, despite the fact it doesn’t operate in D.C. and has never had any dealings with the cooperative, according to Schoolman.

 

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.