A Solar Power Discount In Philadelphia

One Block Off the Grid (OBOTG) is an organization that brokers discounts on solar power systems by buying in bulk and taking their deals to markets where there are additional incentives to go solar. From there, they manage everything from the solar panel specifications to the final installation details. The program makes for a less intimidating process to add solar to homes and businesses. The organization previously offered its group discount deal in Philadelphia last July, but now is revisiting the city in a response to recent utility rate hikes that are 10 years in the making.

In 1996 an act was passed in Pennsylvania that enabled customers to purchase electricity from alternate suppliers, including some clean energy suppliers. The change bit into the profits that utilities like Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) make, even though they still collect a fee for delivering the power.  In an effort to protect consumers from rate hikes during the transition period, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) imposed caps on utility rates for 10 years.

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image via One Block Off the Grid

In Philadelphia, the caps expired at the end of 2010. Just 13 days later, it was reported that nearly 148,000 of the Philadelphia Electric Company’s (PECO) 1.6 million electricity customers had jumped ship and signed on with new energy suppliers. Not surprisingly, PECO later announced they would be raising rates. Since PECO delivers to all of Philadelphia, every city resident and business is affected. That’s where One Block Off the Grid comes in. They have offered their program to Philadelphia residents before and now they’ve returned to Philadelphia to offer a 15% discount on solar panels and installation to any interested resident of the Philadelphia metro area, but the deal only lasts 90 days.

For this deal, OBOTG secured discounts on solar panels from Canadian Solar. For installations, OBOTG returned to Mercury Solar Systems, with whom they partnered during their first Philadelphia solar go around. Residents can combine the 15% discount on hardware and installation with a federal tax incentive that is reportedly roughly equivalent to 30% of the cost of going solar and a  state incentive called the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program. The SREC pays home owners an above market rate for energy that they feed back into the grid. Residents interested in taking advantage of the discount must do so by late June and can sign up at the One Block Off the Grid website.

  • The problem is that due to the legislature’s failure to pass overhaul bills last year to raise SREC requirements and/or limit out-of-state supply of SRECs, the PA SREC market has collapsed to virtually $0/srec. (For the moment they can be sold into Ohio, but as more PA people do that the out-of-state market in Ohio will probably collapse too.) Tell your legislator to pass SREC reform.