If solar energy in D.C. has a problem, it’s not enthusiasm. Three and a half years after a solar coop started in Mount Pleasant, they have over 50 roofs topped with panels, and new coops starting up in Capitol Hill, Petworth, Georgetown, Palisades, Shepherd Park, and Brookland.
One of the reasons behind the flurry of interest is monetary. A year and a half ago, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh passed a bill setting up a $23 million sustainable energy trust fund generated by surcharges on utility bills, which would supply millions of dollars in rebates for small-scale solar and wind installations. It was to be administered by a new, independent sustainable energy utility, with a budget of $7.5 million.
But when Mayor Adrian Fenty’s budget came down, the money wasn’t there. That $7.5 million was pared down to $1 million, $2 million in renewable energy rebates whacked to $1.1 million, and the $23 million overall trust fund amount reduced by about 60 percent. In a tough budget season, this cut hit deeper than most.
Anya Schoolman, who helped found the Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop and fought PEPCO for the right to set up a separate body to oversee renewable energy generation in the District, is disappointed.
“It basically means that this thing is not gonna exist,” she told Housing Complex, after testifying at a Council budget hearing that the funding should be restored. “It’s sort of like the mayor thumbing his nose at the council and saying, ‘I know you passed a law to set this thing up, but we’re not gonna fund it.’”
Councilwoman Cheh was no less impatient.
“I find this deeply troubling, and quite at odds with the mayor’s self-professed view of him being the mayor of green,” Cheh told the Washington Business Journal. “It may, unless I can fix it, scuttle this new way of doing energy conservation in the District.”
Even if the council does restore the funding, the problem is with uncertainty: Schoolman fears any private entities that might have bid on running the new utility would be spooked by the sudden drawdown of funds, and it’s now harder for homeowners to know what kind of help they can expect from the city.
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