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The federal government may be shut down today, but the D.C. Council is in the midst of a legislative session. And it just passed a bill that has D.C. solar power advocates very excited.

The Community Renewable Energy Act, which just passed unanimously, will make it possible for people without their own rooftops to reduce their monthly electricity bills by means of solar power. Until now, if you wanted to use solar power to cut your bills, you pretty much had to have a roof or another surface where you could install solar panels and connect them to your Pepco meter. If you were a renter or lived in a condo building, you were basically out of luck.

This bill allows groups of people to invest in solar power on sites they don’t own and to dial back their Pepco bills digitally. So if there’s a solar installation somewhere in D.C., a resident can buy into, say, 10 percent of it, and then one-tenth of the electricity produced by the installation will be deducted from the person’s Pepco bill. All it takes is an online sign-up.

“This is taking solar into the digital age,” says Anya Schoolman, executive director of the Community Power Network and president of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop. It represents a big step forward for Pepco on solar power, given that the company has struggled to take even its basic solar operations digital.

One of the pleasant surprises of the process, says Schoolman, has been Pepco’s cooperation. “There was a lot of skepticism from Pepco at the beginning,” she says. “But they actually worked with us in good faith on this bill and spent literally hundreds of hours of staff time.” Pepco will have to implement a system for monitoring these solar projects before people can begin participating.

The bill was introduced last year but not passed. This year, it was re-introduced by councilmembers Yvette Alexander, David Grosso, Anita BondsKenyan McDuffieMarion BarryTommy WellsMary Cheh, and Jim Graham.

Solar panel image from Shutterstock