District of Columbia

Program Overview

In Washington, D.C., the 2008 Clean and Affordable Energy Act established a Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) and created a “Sustainable Energy Utility.” The SETF is funded by a surcharge to all electric and natural gas ratepayers in the District of Columbia. In 2012, the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) launched a Small-Scale Solar Initiative, a pilot for low-income residents in Wards 7 and 8, which resulted in 54 photovoltaic installations to reduce their energy costs. At no upfront cost to the homeowners, the installations were financed using a combination of SRECs, federal tax incentives, DCSEU incentives, and contractor financing.

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The successful Small-Scale Solar Initiative evolved into the 2015 Solar Advantage Plus Program, which provided rebates to authorized solar installers for installing solar panels on income-qualified homes across every Ward in the District. Funded by the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), and implemented by the DCSEU, the Solar Advantage Plus Program covered the full cost to install solar panels on single-family homes owned or rented by income-qualified District residents. Authorized solar installers received a maximum rebate of $10,000 per system. The 2015 Solar Advantage Plus Program operated on a first-come, first-served basis and rebate fulfillment was dependent on funding availability.

In 2016, demand for the program (called the Affordable Solar Program) was very high and the DCSEU exceeded its goals by installing and interconnecting 158 systems  in fiscal year 2016. To date, the DCSEU, working with a number of local contractors, has installed over 500 solar PV systems through its income-qualified solar programming.

In July 2016, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into a law the Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016 (B21-0650), setting the stage for a significant expansion of the District’s investment in low-income solar. The Act requires the District to set the following goals:

  • Increase the amount of energy to be consumed from renewable sources to 50% by 2032;
  • Increase the amount of locally generated solar energy from 2.5% in 2023 to 5% by 2032; and
  • Establish the “Solar for All Program” to increase access to solar power benefits (includes rooftop, multifamily, and community solar models) to seniors, small local businesses, nonprofits and low-income households,  with the goal of reducing electric bills of at least 100,000 district low-income households by at least 50% by 2032.

SolarWorks DC job trainee smiles as other participants work onsite.

The District of Columbia’s Solar for All Program is a great example of a comprehensive low-income solar program because it encompasses single-family projects, multifamily affordable housing projects, community solar projects and workforce development (read about the Solar Works DC program here).  Solar Works DC intends to train more than 200 District residents and install solar systems on up to 300 low-income single family homes in the District over three years, at no cost to the homeowners. The cost savings per household is roughly $15,000, which translates to approximately $600 in savings per year.

Guiding Principles Addressed:

Accessibility and Affordability. The District of Columbia low-income solar programs are fantastic examples of leveraging public funds like the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund and Renewable Energy Development Fund, to bring the benefits of solar to everyone. The use of these funds, which are primarily funded from ratepayers and alternative compliance payments, demonstrate a long-term significant source of funding toward program development to directly overcome financial and other challenges to access.

Community Engagement. The agencies involved in the District of Columbia’s low-income Solar Programs, DCSEU and DOEE, are committed to stakeholder and community engagement through things like the DCSEU Advisory Board, DOEE Solar for All Task Force and regular meetings with stakeholders.

Consumer Protection. The main agencies involved in the District of Columbia’s low-income solar programs, DCSEU and DOEE, work closely with the advocacy community and solar industry to implement the programs in a way that protects and educates low-income consumers on the benefits of solar, and provides the solar at no cost to the homeowner.  

Sustainability and Flexibility. As described above, DCSEU adapted its low-income solar program over time, and DOEE will implement Solar for All in five three-year phases to ensure the program is sufficiently flexible to adapt to market changes and overcome barriers.

Compatibility and Integration. The District of Columbia low-income solar programs are designed to be compatible with other efforts underway in the District of Columbia.

Last updated: May 2018