On Tuesday, July 19th, the city of Baltimore reached an agreement with both the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Maryland Clean Energy Center pertaining to the installation of solar energy in home residences. Though the exact details are scant, if this program is successful, it could eventually become the national model for allowing low-income housing to have access to solar power energy.
City officials are expected to release more information on cryptic solar agreement on Tuesday, July 25th. In the meantime, David Foster is a senior adviser at DOE who was able to provide some more information. The goal of the agreement is to “prove the clean-energy revolution in our country can be designed to include everyone”, he says.
Officials indicate that the agreement will expand the Weatherization Assistance Programs currently offered by the Department of Housing and Community Development under the Office of Home Energy Programs. These weatherization services include government assistance to help low-income families pay current and overdue electric bills, and to “help with energy-efficient measures to reduce future electric bills”, according to their website at http://www.baltimorehousing.org/community_ohep. This final section will be outfitted with ways that low-income Baltimore citizens can have solar panels installed in their homes, though exactly how has yet to be announced. Officials have made it clear that residents who are currently participating in the program will be preferred.
City officials have also confirmed that this new agreement will offer workforce training programs for jobs in the renewable energy industry, although any new jobs, if any, have yet to be announced.
When it comes to solar power, the city of Baltimore has been lagging behind the rest of the state in recent years. In 2014, Anne Arundel County had three times as many solar installations as Baltimore County, despite its smaller population. Critics say that Baltimore residents have been slow to embrace solar energy because of a lengthy waiting list for receiving a property tax credit, long waiting times to get the solar panels activated by local electric companies, and a required legal distance between solar panels that is not realistic for city dwelling, which means that most houses were not able to fit enough solar panels onto their homes to make it worthwhile.
City officials have been working hard to remedy this lack of solar energy, since passing a bill in February to raise the state’s “renewable portfolio standard” to 25 percent, with 2.5 percent of that being solar power directly (ultimately, they hope to create over 1 thousand new jobs and 1.3 GW of clean energy). The bill also allowed for the construction of community solar centers which residents can invest in for an energy credit. These solar projects are located on building rooftops, churches, or in wide open spaces within the city limits. Finally, the bill planned to shorten the long wait times that Baltimore solar panel customers had to endure before their solar panels were activated by city utilities from 76 days to 20 days.
On Wednesday, July 20th, Baltimore also announced its plans to purchase all energy from a new renewable energy power plant that is being built in Harford County by Constellation Energy. By securing a fixed rate on solar power energy that is below current and projected electricity rates, city officials are hopeful that the 15-year agreement will save $13 million on energy costs for Baltimore in the long run. The solar power plant is expected to produce nearly 13 million kilowatt hours, which is enough to power 1,200 homes – or 3.7 percent of Baltimore’s total energy consumption. With these agreements, in combination with Tuesday’s future announcements, Baltimore is poised to be on top of the East Coast solar power industry in upcoming years.