Solar power is one of the most efficient, renewable and inexhaustible resources that the planet has, but it’s only been in recent years that humans have been able to harvest most effectively for our power grids. Not only is solar power one of the cheapest methods of powering your home, in D.C., you can even get paid for it. To learn more about this program and how to convert your own home to solar power, we spoke with Ben Colbert, founder of City Renewables.
ABERMAN: Tell me what you’re up to at City Renewables.
COLBERT: We’re super excited at City Renewables right now, and we’re helping the city convert over to renewable energy by deploying solar panels in the District and Maryland. But primarily we’re focusing on the District, and what we do is help homeowners and business owners understand the benefits of solar, understand how solar panels work, and the process of going solar.
ABERMAN: You know, it’s interesting to me how rapidly solar power has become cost effective. It seems like it’s happened overnight, but I learned recently from talking with an energy analyst that the cost per kilowatt hour for solar power is now significantly less than power from coal or fossil fuels. I don’t hear people talking about that very much. Why aren’t more people talking about this, and going to use solar just because it’s cheaper?
COLBERT: Good question. And the reason for that is that the technology has rapidly developed in the last five years. So five years ago, the costs for solar was about five times the cost of what you’d pay your utility company. Today it’s lower than what you’re currently paying. And in D.C., you actually make money, make additional income, from solar each month instead of paying your Pepco Bill. So it’s happened really recently.
Muriel Bowser passed a new sustainability plan for D.C. there requires the city to go to renewables by 2032. And in doing so, that unlocked a lot of different incentives for customers. So now, customers get to take advantage of a federal tax credit, which is 30 percent of the system cost, then collect what are called solar renewable energy credits, and those are the most lucrative part of the benefits package right now for homeowners. And then in addition to that, you can eliminate your electric bill for 30 years.
ABERMAN: So you said something there that I hadn’t heard other people say. So if I put this in my home, I actually make money? How do I make money?
COLBERT: So D.C. is a very unique market for solar, where you can actually make income from your solar system, as opposed to just saving money. So in D.C., there are three primary benefits: one, you eliminate your electric bill for 30 years. The second is you get a federal tax credit, which is 30 percent of the system cost. Then in addition to that, there’s a special benefit in D.C. called the Solar Renewable Energy Credits, and how it works is, you get paid money quarterly or monthly or yearly, however you elect to take these credits. They’re essentially a carbon tax credit.
So the way that they work is through a market, and if you go online, the Web site is srectrade.com, and this market allows homeowners and business owners to sell credits into the marketplace. So the way that it works is, for every thousand kilowatt hours that you produce out of your system, you get one credit. Most system for homeowners, you get about 10 credits per year. Right now in D.C., they are trading at about four hundred and ten dollars per credit. So that means homeowners can collect over four thousand dollars quarterly, and analysts right now say that it will be strong for the next five years.
ABERMAN: So effectively what you’re telling me is that, if I decided to put solar power in my home, I’m going to recover the cost of putting that in place relatively quickly? I’m listening to this and thinking, this is the biggest no-brainer in history. So why aren’t more people doing it?
COLBERT: So the reason that more people are not doing this right now is because of the lack of knowledge on how the tax credits work, how the solar renewable energy credit market works, and the process to go solar. So most of everyone inside the Beltway is very clean energy friendly, and would love to support clean energy. But at the same time, they don’t quite understand how the process goes, how the energy markets work, and how the tax credits work. At City Renewables, we help homeowners understand the benefits, how solar works, and the process to convert to solar.
ABERMAN: All right. Well, you’ve got a willing coconspirator. I want to sign up, I want to go to solar power. Talk to me a bit about how this process works, and how I could go follow the breadcrumbs to do this.
COLBERT: Absolutely. That’s what we’re excited about. So, we’re launching a new program. They go on our website, and enter in their information, and we will send them a design of their home and an outline of the benefits that they will receive from solar power.
ABERMAN: Do you also refer them to contractors, or where they can go and buy the equipment and get it installed?
COLBERT: Yes. So, City Renewables designs systems, and we manage the project for homeowners and business owners. So the first step is to schedule a consultation with us. We will meet with you, whether over the phone or in person. And we will explain how solar works, the benefits, and the process to convert. If you would like to convert to solar, then we help you step the process. Second step is to agree on your design for your home, and make sure that’s exactly what you need.
And then after that, we submit a building permit for you, and then it takes about three weeks for you to get your building permit approved. After that, we can schedule your installation. The installation usually takes about two days to complete. After that, we schedule an inspection. An inspector will come out and make sure that the system is installed properly. After that, then Pepco or whatever utility provider you have will come out and change your meter to a solar meter, and then you can turn on your system.
ABERMAN: So, sounds to me, as we finish up, City Renewables is basically a white glove concierge to help anybody set up solar power in the home.
COLBERT: That’s correct.
ABERMAN: That’s wonderful. Yet again, we have an entrepreneur who decided to solve a problem, and I love this. This is a great investment. I’m looking forward to hearing about your progress in City Renewables, Ben. Thanks a lot for coming on the show.