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D.C. reneges on aid to install solar panels

Although city officials say they are looking for more money, Brian Levy was told he won't get $12,200 to offset part of the cost of the $27,500 solar system he had installed on his home.
Although city officials say they are looking for more money, Brian Levy was told he won't get $12,200 to offset part of the cost of the $27,500 solar system he had installed on his home. (The Washington Post)
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Ivan Frishberg, an environmental advocate and a member of Capitol Hill's Advisory Neighborhood Commission, installed a $34,000 solar system on his home, only to be told that the city would not be able to reimburse him the $11,000 it had promised.

He said officials promised he would be on the list of those considered first for any new funding that becomes available next year.

"That's not really a commitment," Frishberg said. "Now they're writing a second check they can't keep."

Solar installation companies also have been caught in the bind. Astrum Solar, an Annapolis-based firm, has installed more than 50 systems in the District and is working with another 50 people on the waiting list for D.C. funds. Most residents are reluctant to move forward, said Joshua Goldberg, Astrum's vice president for policy and business development.

"We'd like to move away from grants, which are subject to budgets and legislation year to year," Goldberg said.

To that end, the council is considering legislation designed to increase demand by requiring companies to use more renewable energy. They also want to make the energy credits obtained by homeowners who install systems more valuable by limiting the ability of companies to comply with renewable energy regulations by purchasing credits outside the city.

In the meantime, recognizing the likelihood of ongoing budget woes, Tulou and Cheh are considering a proposal that would slash in half the amount of grant money awarded in the solar energy incentive program next year. A public hearing on that proposal is scheduled for March 16 at 1200 First Street NE.

For Levy, the experience has made him think twice about trying to convince friends to purchase solar panels.

"It's hard to make the pitch to anyone now," he said. "I had lots of e-mails from friends about it, but now I've had to say, 'Hold everything, I can't recommend doing this anymore.' "


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