People in DC can expect both lower utility bills and more sources for clean energy in the near future. This is because the DC government is shifting its environmental focus toward renewable energy.

Photo by Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon on Flickr.

Last month, Mayor Muriel Bowser re-branded the District Department of the Environment to the District Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE). Beyond the name change, the department announced new subsidies for solar panels and that it would start buying electricity from a wind farm rather than Pepco, which largely uses coal.

At the press conference announcing the change, Bowser reaffirmed the city’s commitment to renewable energy and vowed to make the District a national leader in the effort to tackle the effects of climate change. She also pledged to ensure that residents of all eight wards will be able to afford clean, renewable energy.

A first stab at this effort will be the city’s purchase of wind power that will provide the District’s municipal buildings with 35 percent of the power they need to operate, saving District taxpayers an estimated $45 million dollars over the next 20 years . This power will come through a power purchasing agreement with Iberdrola Renewables, who operate a wind farm in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Get ready to see more solar panels all across the city

But that’s just the first step. Both the mayor and DOEE Director Tommy Wells have pledged to move beyond government buildings and make renewable energy options available to all District residents and businesses. They hope to install solar panels across the city, paid for through a mix of District funds from the initial energy savings from the Iberdrola deal and private investment from local banks.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

The first of these programs, DC PACE, provides 100 percent up-front financing for businesses to install clean energy upgrades in the form of solar panels, and is open to all businesses in the District. Since energy costs will be cheaper for businesses, the program could spur new development. New projects could offset a portion of construction and startup costs and existing businesses could be incentivized to expand with the savings realized by the installation of solar panels through this program.

All District residents should have access to clean energy

Of particular concern is making sure renters and low-income residents are able to access clean power and lower their utility costs in turn. DOEE plans to invest some of the savings on the government side into solar energy production.

The District plans to provide low-income homeowners with solar roofs and put another $6 million worth of panels on government buildings to generate community solar credits that residents can purchase. Every single District resident would have access to these credits, and the more panels that go up, the cheaper these credits will be for residents to purchase.

Besides a reduced reliance on energy derived from fossil fuels, these investments will lead to direct economic benefits for ratepayers because of the reduced transmission costs associated with local solar power generation.

Photo by Jim Girardi on Flickr.

Needless to say, an investment of this size can buy a lot of solar panels. If everything goes according to plan, we will begin to see more and more solar arrays pop up on the roofs of homes and businesses across DC.

If we can reduce the District’s overall dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change by making this slight alteration to our built environment, we can also work towards improving public health and spurring local economic development in the District at the same time.

Johnathan Berard is a policy analyst, community organizer, and environmental advocate. Currently, he works on water resource management and environmental justice issues for Blue Water Baltimore. He has a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in urban and environmental policy from GWU. Johnathan and his wife live in Greenbelt, MD.