August 1, 2016

New Program Will Make D.C. A Leader On Renewable Energy

The nation’s capital will get half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032, officials announced Monday.

The new, 50 percent renewable portfolio standard will require the District’s utilities to increase electricity from sources such as wind and solar from the current goal of 20 percent by 2020 to 50 percent by 2032, getting at least 5 percent from solar. In addition, under a jobs and installation program, more than 100,000 low-income D.C. households will be outfitted with solar over the next 16 years.

The legislation was introduced in March by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh and was cosponsored by six other councilmembers — giving the bill popular support even before deliberations. The bill was passed unanimously in late June.

The city already had a “Sustainable D.C.” goal of 50 percent renewable energy, but there was no law on the books specifying how it would get there. The increased formal standard could reassure some residents who were in opposition to the Exelon-Pepco merger that was finalized this fall. Exelon, the district’s new major utility, has fought state renewable standards in the past, and the merger was initially hung up over green energy concerns.

The District joins the ranks of several other states and cities (depending on how you categorize it) with aggressive renewable energy goals. Hawaii and Vermont are the nation’s leaders in renewable energy goals, with a 100 percent and a 75 percent RPS, respectively. California and New York also have 50 percent renewable energy goals, while several other U.S. cities have pledged to go 100 percent renewable.

By and large, communities recognize that this is a great time to push renewable energy development. If the country is going to meet its emissions targets, it will need to get much, much more energy from non-emitting sources, such as wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal — or even nuclear, which comes with its own environmental and safety concerns. Moreover, the cost of renewable energy is falling dramatically. For instance, the cost of residential solar is half what it was six years ago.

Solar, in particular, has been shown to be uniquely valuable to low-income communities, where people tend to spend a great portion of their incomes on utility costs and are also disproportionately affected by both the pollution and the climate change that comes with traditional fossil fuel power generation.

"This is an investment not just in our environment but in our economy as well, providing good career opportunities for young people like the men and women in GZEP Solar Plus program, and reducing the energy cost burden for 100,000 low-income D.C. residents over the next 15 years," said Nicole Steele, executive director of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, which will be working with the city on jobs training and low-income installations. "We're excited to partner with the District to make sure all our communities can benefit from solar."

In 2015, there were 309,574 housing units in the city, so an additional 100,000 households will likely ensure that more than a third of the city's households will be solar-powered.

“A very powerful motivation for low-income solar is that you are creating an asset within a low-income community that is generating wealth. That wealth can help leverage additional economic activity,” Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University’s Solar Institute, told ThinkProgress in March.

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