A social evening on solar

The Bowie Solar Co-op held a Social Mixer at the Old Bowie Town Grille last week. Over a few hours, with the buzz of the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament on TVs in the background, a lively group of solar homeowners and those interested in going solar got to know each other. Those with solar shared their knowledge on the topic and how it has worked for them. Folks interested or already part of the co-op asked questions on topics ranging from how solar attaches to your roof to curiosity about warranties and financing options.

“I really enjoyed seeing everyone get to know each other starting with their common interest in solar” observed Corey Ramsden, Program Director for MD SUN. “At one point I overheard two solar enthusiasts discover that they were part of the same garden club too.”

The Bowie Solar Co-op opened up in January of this year and recently selected Standard Energy Solutions to work with the group. Right now the 64 members of the group are scheduling appointments with their selected installer and receiving proposals that include the co-ops bulk discount. Interested homeowners in Prince George’s County can sign up to join the group through May 31 at www.mdsun.org/bowie.

Using solar storage to mitigate natural disasters’ impact

Solar systems with battery backup have the potential to provide communities with much needed resiliency in the face of natural disasters. These systems can protect vulnerable communities from the disaster’s most immediate, devastating effects by providing power when the electric grid goes down. Over an extended period, solar powered system replenish — even if roads are cut off, or access to gas for traditional home generators is unavailable or hard to get.

While the need for solar plus storage is clear, what is less clear is if solar systems with battery backup is a realistic option for communities seeking to improve their resiliency. We decided to answer this question and explore what it would take to help a community deploy solar plus storage at a meaningful scale.

Working with our parent organization, Community Power Network, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the current “state of the art” of solar plus storage. It sought to determine if solar plus storage is a viable means to protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change. We modeled the financial feasibility of these projects and identified means to scaling up their deployment.

The research demonstrated several important findings. The battery market is robust enough to support solar plus storage. Solar plus storage can be financially positive for the institutions that build these projects. This is especially true for commercial entities facing high demand charges in their regular electric bill. Despite this, interest on the private business side for solar storage remains low. This is due to a low level of knowledge about storage, the complexity of developing such projects, and a lack of incentive for businesses to invest in resiliency of any form. On the public side, municipalities in the study area were very interested in using solar storage as part of their resiliency goals. This is despite the fact that the economics of such projects were much less compelling for municipalities. This is due to the complexity of utilizing tax credits. Despite this interest from municipalities, solar plus storage is not currently included in the local resiliency planning.

The barriers to growing solar plus storage are not financial or technical. In order for this technology to flourish, the policy environment must change. Policy should look to create demand for solar plus storage projects in resiliency planning. It should require municipalities and strategic businesses that provide communications, food, medicine, and shelter to the infirm and elderly to plan for emergency when power is out and gas stations are closed for an extended time frame. This will encourage municipalities and private sector entities to think pro-actively about how their systems could become more resilient.

To read the full report, click here.

Bowie Solar Co-op selects installer

The Bowie Solar Co-op has selected Standard Energy Solutions to install solar panels for the 53-member group. Co-op members selected Standard Energy Solutions through a competitive bidding process over ten other firms.

Co-op members selected Standard Energy Solutions because of its competitive pricing, local experience, and strong warranties.

The co-op is open to new members until May 31. Residents across Prince George’s County interested in joining the co-op can sign up at www.mdsun.org/bowie. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Standard Energy Solutions will provide each co-op member with an individualized proposal based on the group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

Montgomery co-op celebrates success

The Montgomery County Solar Co-op celebrated its success at Rockville City Hall last week. Co-op members joined with representatives of Solar Energy World, and public officials like Councilmember Sydney Katz and Lisa Feldt, Director of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Rockville City Councilmembers Julie Palakovich Carr and Mark Pierzchala. After some brief words from the officials, Corey Ramsden, MD SUN’s Program Director, presented awards to the co-op’s promotional partners and several co-op members who were the first to join the group and the first to sign a contract to go solar with the group. Attendees socialized, got to know each other, shared details about their solar installations, and the rapid of adoption of solar in the county.

The biggest ever

This co-op has the distinction of being not only the largest solar co-op in MD SUN history but also in the history of Community Power Network which has similar programs in the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Florida. From May 2016 through September, 244 county residents signed up to join the co-op. Together, 88 group members installed a little over 790 kilowatts of solar generating capacity with an approximate investment value of $2.2 million dollars. By working through a co-op, MD SUN estimates group members saved close to $395,000 dollars.

The group received eight competitive bids from area installers. Over the summer, an all-volunteer selection committee selected Solar Energy World to work with the group. Through the fall, group members signed contracts with Solar Energy World to go solar with most of the installations completed by the end of December.

Thank you!

MD SUN would like to thank each and every member of the Montgomery Solar Co-op and each promotional partner for making this group a huge success through their enthusiasm and collective efforts. Special thanks to the homeowners who volunteered for the co-op’s selection committee, sharing their time to review each bid and select an installer on behalf of the entire group.

Promotional Partners:

Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection
City of Takoma Park
City of Rockville
City of Gaithersburg
Poolesville Green
Adat Shalom Congregation of Bethesda

Bowie Solar Co-op Ambassadors pay it forward

The first round of the Bowie Solar Co-op was a big success in 2015. More than 150 homeowners joined the group and 54 of them installed solar through the co-op. The second round of the co-op launched this February. With close to 50 people in the new 2017 group so far, it’s off to a great start. This is thanks in part to the support of 2015 members who are paying it forward to this latest round of solar cooperative purchase by volunteering their time and experience.

Sharing their solar experience

Solar information sessions are a great way to educate folks about solar and encouraging them to join a solar co-op. It’s been great having past co-op members attend these sessions to share their experience going solar and answer questions from prospective co-op members.

Solar open house

As another means of informing community members and encouraging potential co-op members, MD SUN asked if any 2015 solar co-op members would be interested in hosting a solar open house at their home. Quentin Smith answered the call, hosting an open house at his residence on a recent Saturday afternoon. Community members could drop by, see a solar installation up close and hear from Quentin on his experiences. One attendee asked questions about not only solar technology but about how the group’s installer is selected. Solar co-ops select their installer by committee with MD SUN providing administrative and technical support along the way. After the open house this particular attendee not only joined the solar co-op but also volunteered to be on the committee.

Gathering for solar

In addition to a final information session on March 4, at Bowe City Hall, the Bowie Solar Co-op will be hosting a Solar Mixer on March 16 at Old Bowie Town Grille. 2015 Bowie Solar Co-op members, MD SUN staff, and those interested in joining the 2017 group will have an opportunity to get to know each other and talk solar.

New members are open to join the Bowie Solar Co-op by filling out the online registration form.

Solar and taxes: Paying what you owe and getting paid what you’re owed

(NOTE: The information in this article should not be construed as tax advice. We recommend you check with your tax adviser on this credit and tax preparation questions.)

Tax season is here. For new solar owners, that may mean a significant tax credit. If you are a new solar owner it is important you understand what you can and can’t deduct as part of your new solar system.

The federal government offers a non-refundable 30% credit off your system’s purchased cost. For this tax season, this credit can be recovered for systems placed in service before the end of 2016. This credit is covered under section 25D of the IRS code. The relevant sections are 25D(d)(2), 25D(e)(2), and 25D(d)8. The Federal Tax Credit for homeowners is scheduled to lower to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. It is set to expire at the end of 2023.

This credit reduces the amount of tax you will pay in the year you take the credit. Assume you paid $10,000 for a solar system and your total tax bill that year was $6,500. You would get a $3,000 tax credit. So, your final tax bill would be $3,500. Assuming that you paid taxes through withholding from your paycheck or made quarterly estimated tax payments, you would probably get money back in a refund.

Under the same scenario, let’s assume your tax bill was only $2,000. You can only take the tax credit up to zeroing out your tax liability for the year. But, you would be able to roll the remaining credit over to account for your taxes the next year, so you aren’t losing out if you can’t take the entire credit in one year.

Solar customers are able to take the tax credit starting the year their system goes into service. So, if your system was installed in December, but it wasn’t approved by the utility company to be switched on until January, the conservative approach would be to wait until the next year to claim the tax credit. Interpretations vary on the exact meaning of “in service” however. An alternate interpretation would be when the system is fully installed and tested by the installer and subsequently inspected and approved for use by your local jurisdiction.

Does that 30% cover covering?

A key solar tax question is does the credit apply to structural improvements you need to make in order to complete the installation. For example, let’s say you had to make improvements to your roof as part of your installation. Is that covered?

Here’s what the IRS says:

Qualified solar electric property costs are costs for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in your home located in the United States. No costs relating to a solar panel or other property installed as a roof (or portion thereof) will fail to qualify solely because the property constitutes a structural component of the structure on which it is installed.

This would seem to indicate that you may be able to include the costs of roofing into the tax credit as long as it is a structural component of the installation. A practical example of this would be if a home needed to have its roof re-enforced (the rafters or trusses for example) to support an installation that may be covered under the tax credit whereas replacement of roofing shingles, since they are not structural in nature, would not be covered.

What you’ll owe

The 30% tax credit only applies if you own your system. If you lease your system, the company you lease from is eligible to take the tax credit. If you own your system (you pay cash or finance your purchase through a loan), you will also own any Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) generated by the system. The money you earn from selling these SRECs is taxable. Think of this like capital gains taxes you would have to pay upon the sale of a stock.

Everyone’s system and tax situation is unique. If you have questions, you should contact a qualified tax professional.

Cecil County Solar Co-op selects EDGE Energy to serve group

The Cecil County Solar Co-op has selected EDGE Energy to install solar panels for the 21-member group. Co-op members selected EDGE Energy through a competitive bidding process over 6 other firms.

Co-op members selected EDGE Energy because of their install experience, strong warranties, and quality equipment.

The co-op is open to new members until April 30. Cecil County residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the mdsun.org/cecil.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. EDGE Energy will provide each co-op member with an individualized proposal based on the group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

 

Get involved in transforming Maryland’s energy economy

Maryland’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has undertaken a proceeding, PC 44, that may significantly change the rules for way we generate and receive electricity. We need your help to ensure all Marylanders get a fair deal from the process. In January, the Commission announced the formation of several working groups as part of the proceeding as well as a study to assess the benefits and costs of distributed solar to Maryland. The working groups will provide commissioners feedback on key components of Maryland’s electricity sector that, according to the Commission, are “ripe for action in this proceeding”. Pilot projects, experimental electricity tariffs and development of rules for these topics may be coming too. This is our opportunity to ensure Maryland’s community of solar supporters is represented.

Get involved!

Is there a particular working group topic that’s of interest to you? Want to get involved? Here’s one way you can help:

  1. Volunteer for a working group.
  2. Attend meetings (many will be conducted by phone).
  3. Report back to the MD SUN network listserv on issues the working groups discuss.
  4. Coordinate with other solar supporters to make sure community perspectives are included in the conversation.

Don’t worry about not having a background in the subject matter. Just listening on calls and learning as you go is a great way to get up to speed. And if you are a solar homeowner, you can offer your particular personal perspective on any proposed changes. Input from Maryland residents is welcomed and appreciated by the Commission in their regulatory proceedings. The Commission’s charge is to represent us, the people, to make sure that utility services meet our needs.

How do I sign up for a working group?

Signing up is easy, just email the working group leader (see the list below) and let them know you are a Maryland resident and that you’d like to participate in the working group. They’ll add you to the list and notify you about upcoming meetings and meeting agenda for that group.

The working groups will be broken up into the following topics:

  1. Rate Design (Jon Kucskar, Jon.Kucskar@maryland.gov)

This group will discuss “Time of Use” (TOU) rates and whether time varying rates that value the benefits and costs of distributed solar could both empower customers and provide appropriate market signals. Several of these working groups will consider possible pilot programs. One such pilot could be implementing TOU rates for customers with distributed solar. A pilot of TOU rates and solar may, for example, include a higher value credit for energy produced at times of the day and year when the grid needs it more and a lower rate when the grid does not need it as much.

  1. Electric Vehicles (Marissa Gillett, Marissa.Gillett@maryland.gov)

This group will discuss widening the use of electric vehicle (EV) specific tariffs, the use of time-varying rates, infrastructure investment by utilities, partnerships on vehicle fleet electrification, and other measures to expand and support electric vehicle use in the state.

  1. Competitive Markets and Customer Choice (Odogwuobi Linton, Odogwuobi.Linton@maryland.gov)

This group will discuss developing statewide standards for smart meter data sharing and improving the competition, transparency and customer-friendliness of retail choice.

  1. Interconnection Process (Jon Kucskar, Jon.Kucskar@maryland.gov)

This group will discuss improvements to solar interconnection standards and procedures, the possible mandated use of smart inverters, expanded availability of hosting capacity maps for deciding where solar and other distributed resources can be easily sited, and cost allocation and system capacity issues regarding large and mid-size solar facilities.

  1. Energy Storage (Andrew Johnston, Andrew.Johnston@maryland.gov)

This group will discuss possible rules to define residential energy storage, its interconnection to the grid and how it’s classified in rules, tariffs, and policies as well as appropriate criteria for deciding whether utilities should invest in energy storage and how they should be compensated.

  1. Distribution System Planning (Group may happen if there is sufficient funding available)

This group will discuss the components of distribution planning, what areas the Commission should focus on and whether it should authorize a study on key topics.

Value of solar study too

Several states have already conducted what are called “value of solar” studies to more accurately account for the value of a resource like rooftop solar to a utility grid. In addition to the working groups, the Maryland Commission has decided that determining this value is a key input into many areas of discussion on grid modernization. As a result, they will pay a consultant to study the benefits and costs of distributed solar in the investor-owned utility service territory areas (BGE, Pepco, Delmarva, & Potomac Edison).

The study will include a specific analysis of distributed solar’s health and environmental benefits, as well as “focus on distributed solar’s geographic and grid location (i.e. valuing the cost of lost open space, agricultural and ecological services, and the grid benefits of load-offsetting generation), and how an advance in energy storage technology or cost-effectiveness could enhance the benefits of distributed solar in Maryland”.

The results will inform decisions by the Commission and could have a significant impact on the future value of solar to solar homeowners.

Bowie Solar Co-op Issues Request for Proposals

The Bowie Solar Co-op has released a request for proposals from area installers to serve the 35-member group. After successfully taking more than 50 homes solar in the first round of the Bowie Solar Co-op in 2016, neighbors formed this group to help more Bowie residents go solar.

Residents in Bowie and across Prince George’s County interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op web page. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Co-op members will select a single company to complete all of the installations. They will then have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participant generally save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

The group’s RFP can be downloaded here.

The response template can be downloaded here.

Bids are due February 17 at 5:00 p.m.

Senate vote enacts law to expand solar access

Today the Senate voted (32-13) to override Governor Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. This means the bill becomes law, as earlier this week the House also voted to override the veto.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act will increase the requirement standard for renewables from 20% to 25% by 2020 and expand the requirement for locally produced solar energy as well. This is a great step forward in Maryland’s transition to a renewable energy economy. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) has played an important role in growing solar across the state. It encourages solar adoption and to date has created more than 4,200 jobs.