Guest Post – Solar Coops Emerge in the District: Is There a Bright Future?

1 - Solar Photovoltaic Panels

The following guest post was written by Amber Wason from Green DC Realty.

Mount Pleasant Solar Coop is born…

In September of 2006, Mount Pleasant resident, Jeff Morley, was dragged to see An Inconvenient Truth by his (then) 12 year-old son, Diego. Impacted by the documentary, the boy and his friend carried the discussion home, and what began as a dinner table discussion resulted in a promise to do something about it.

In response, neighbors, Jeff Morley and Anya Schoolman, and their teenage sons, Walter Lynn and Diego Arene-Morley, founded the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop. It is their answer to addressing the sense of urgency to do something to reduce their impact on global warming.

They were led to the coop model for two reasons: first, they figured if they were going to go through the work of figuring out how to install solar technology, they should include more people and have a bigger impact. Second, they needed a way to bring down the cost, and hoped through bulk purchasing they could share expenses and expertise with neighbors.

They began with ambitious goals and thought it was feasible to have something up and running within a year. While sounding reasonable, the early contributors learned that they would face many obstacles; a steep learning curve around this topic of solar. They resiliently unbundled the prohibiting factors solar presents to homeowners, addressing each one individually and holistically. Their persistent efforts paid off as the group celebrated completing 47 solar installations in the fall of 2009.

The remarkable efforts of this group serve to be an example for other groups in DC, and late in 2008, we saw a second coop model emerge in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Then came the Capitol Hill Energy Cooperative…

In 2008, homeowners, businesses, and churches in the Capitol Hill neighborhood decided they too wanted to do something to address climate change and lower energy bills. Your browser may not support display of this image.

Continues after the jump.

Luckily, they didn’t have to start from scratch and were able to replicate the model Mount Pleasant Solar Coop piloted. Mike Barrette, the resident solar expert for the Capitol Hill group explains, “Mt Pleasant helped us to get started, and we are now growing at a fast pace. We are working with Mt Pleasant to seek improvements to DC’s administration of the solar rebate program, and to get additional incentive programs for solar hot water. Our group is now well over 150, and the installations are beginning for the first few members. We just completed our 2nd installation through the co-op, and we should have more than ten completed by the summer.”

Mike goes on to explain that they have selected their own set of vendors through extensive evaluation, and that members are getting “an immediate payback after factoring in the three government rebates and subsidies available”.

Who is Next?

Both the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop and the Capitol Hill Energy Cooperative are proof that individuals can come together and make a big difference in their own backyards (or on their own rooftops!). The coop model has the ability to affect change by addressing the issues that prevent “solar enthusiasts” from becoming solar customers. The organizations provide as an unbiased source of information, and allow neighbors to celebrate in a BIG way when their individual efforts add up to impressive results.

Anya Schoolman of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop indicates that it’s a main priority of their group to support other co-ops to form all over DC. At a minimum they’d like to see one in each of the eight wards of the city, so that each can engage and influence one member of the City Council.

She encourages others to replicate their model, and goes on to offer specific words of wisdom:

“Get a strong core group to start, and include some kids in the core group. Buy an email management system. Be clear on what your goals are. Don’t be afraid to get political and get down deep in arcane rules, regulations, and technical details. If you get stuck, ask for help—you will be surprised how many others want you to succeed. Don’t take a path that won’t work for others…”

For anyone interested in bringing the co-op model to their neighborhood, Anya ([email protected]) is available for advice, or to give workshops on getting started.

Solar coops are off to a strong start in the district – we hope to see a bright future for solar in the neighborhoods of our Nation’s Capitol.

15 Comment

  • I read once how criminals use Google Maps to find large banks of solar panels and then steal them. Not really on point, but still interesting.

  • Has anyone explored a Petworth co-op? What is the interest level out there?

  • I’d really love to know more about peoples’ real world experience with the cost and return. I spoke to a contractor about this and his sense was that the price of panels and installation and the power generated still fairly low that it’s a long way from really making feasible economic sense for homeowners.

    It’s kind of like hybrid cars — you have some people who are willing to pay a premium to make a statement and consume less fossil fuels, then there are others who will only buy a hybrid car if their savings on gas in the long run outweighs the higher price and other negatives.

    I’d really love to have a better understanding of the cost curve; hopefully at some point the technology and price will make it so that everyone can not only help the environment but save money also.

    • Dear Rock Creek,
      I believe that right now solar is at a price point where it makes economic sense to do an installation.

      1. Federal tax credits are available and you can get 30% of your solar installation costs back. We got around $9000 from that.

      2. You can sell your renewable energy credits back to different energy aggregator firms, we got about $6000 from that.

      3. DC has set aside $2 million a year for the next several years for residents who go solar. The DC solar grant we got for our install was about $11000. There is a long wait list however.

      Our panels cost us $6000 out of pocket and we got a 4KW system. On a recent sunny day in March we produced over 26 kwh of electricity. And actually DC gets a lot of sunlight, which a commenter below is incorrect on. See:

      It was pretty much a turnkey operation for us for the installation. We used Astrum Solar who recently presented, along with several other companies, to the capitol hill solar coop. Other than some issues dealing with Pepco (and seriously who doesn’t have issues with Pepco?) solar has been a great experience for us.

      Hope this helps.

  • Interesting story, distractingly atrocious writing.

  • Solar really isn’t the best option for DC, considering this isn’t a very sunny city. If we’re going to invest, wind power makes more sense as an alternative energy. Too bad we can’t have a power plant operated on bullshit.

  • I’m in Petworth, and several of us have remarked that we’re interested in doing a group buy of solar panels in order to get discounts.

    I just converted from buying my electricity direct from Pepco to 100% wind-powered via Pepco, but I still need to convert my hot water heater to something more efficient. So my first goal is for solar hot water, then later to explore some additional solar panels. I am not sure what I am going to do about my radiator system, which relys on natural gas.

  • If anyone is thinking about installing a solar unit at their house, we tried it and were thrilled with it. We just moved to Petworth from Oakland, CA where we had installed a solar electric system on our house. We didn’t have a lot of money so we ended up installing a relatively small unit – I think it was 3KW or so – ten panels in all. Now Oakland gets a lot of summer fog and it is a few degrees farther north than DC, but we were still able to produce enough power to zero out our power bill each month. The state gave us a about $5000 to offset the cost – the cost to us was around $10,000 after the grant. I figured out the system would pay for itself in about 7 years at current power rates.

  • I few comments-
    1. RE Petworth Coop. I have a few names. If there are others interested–send me your emails, in a week or two I will send an email to the whole group putting you in touch with one another. [email protected] put Petworth Coop in the subject line.

    2. Solar Thermal- Soon, DC will have a program with rebates for solar thermal. They are required to by law, but they haven’t done the regs yet.
    3. The economics of solar are crazy good right now!!!

  • In just the last 6 months, the prices have dropped significantly. I went to visit one of our new installations on Capitol Hill last weekend. As it turns out, the homeowner will actually be making money immediately because the three rebates/incentives available are more than the system cost. If anyone in Petworth wants to follow our progress on Capitol Hill and look at our materials/price sheets, they are on a private google group — to view — use the “Join” link at

  • Doesn’t Historic Mount Pleasant/Historic Preservation Review Board prevent solar panels from being used on most rooftops in Mt P?

    • Depending on the kind of roof – if they’re not visible then HMP wouldn’t object. I have a flat roof so it wouldn’t be a problem.

      Interesting that dish antennas on visible porch roofs are permitted but solar panels and green roofs are not.

      captcha = “schoolteacher cereals” the more you eat, the smarters you get.

      • Interesting, so the panels can’t be visible at all from the ground? Seems kinda restrictive.

        And yeah, the dishes are far more of an eyesore IMO, but the telecom industry paid off the FCC and Congress really well and had a law passed that prevents almost any restrictions to where you can place a dish.

        • ah

          I suppose that’s one way to characterize it . . . the FCC’s purpose was to limit restrictions on satellite dishes because they (DirectTV, Dish) would help provide competition with cable. Some cable systems had gone so far as to pay buildings to prohibit satellite dishes . . .

  • Looks like Petworth might really launch a third solar coop. DC may run out of rebate funds, at this rate!

    As Anya noted, the economics of solar are superb right now. I read today about a company that is selling polychrystalline silicon PV panels (to utility-scale buyers) for $1.11 per watt – and that’s not a typo. With recent production capacity increases and the economic downturn, there are just more cells coming on the market that have to be sold at some price, almost any price!

    This suggests that purchases in large quantities – something at or close to utility scale – ought to enable coops to get lower prices.

    I’d like to know the extent to which coops reduce unit prices for materials or labor. The more certain benefit I think I see on the cost side is in making the sale of solar RECs easier (cutting the net cost), but I’m not even sure about that.

    Not to sound negative – I’m not at all. The most important benefits of solar coops might be (i) mobilizing a lot more people to take action sooner to install solar roofs than they otherwise would, and (ii) pulling together information better on technologies, suppliers, contractors, city regs, the various rebate-type programs, etc. These are not trivial benefits!


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