By Stewart Lawrence
In Montgomery County, Maryland, a progressive jurisdiction where support for renewable energy is widespread, there’s been a notable jump in solar installations. In 2010, there were just 150 homes in the county with solar panels. That figure mushroomed to 2,506 homes in 2016 and to 9,816homes as of June 2020, according to the county’s Department of Permitting Services. How did the county do it?
Factors Contributing to the Growth of Solar Panel Installations in Montgomery County, MD
It certainly helped that Maryland passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2019. That legislation required half of Maryland’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030 and 14.5% come from in-state solar energy systems. This boosted Solar Renewable Energy Credits (a major incentive that pays solar system owners for all the clean energy they produce) up by over 120% in the span of a few months. The state’s Residential Clean Energy Grant Program also provides upfront rebates of $1,000 for eligible homeowners who buy solar systems. Homeowners and businesses also don’t have to pay regular sales tax on their purchase of solar panels and related equipment.
Funding Options for Solar Systems Installation in Montgomery County
Currently, homeowners can choose between buying or leasing a solar system. Buying a system gives the owner tax credits, but requires a large upfront cost. Leasing means homeowners only pays monthly fees. Such fees can take the form of rental payments or discounted electric prices per kWh, which is called a Power Purchase Agreement or PPA.
For those homeowners that prefer not to make an outright purchase, solar loans are also available. A growing number of banks, credit unions and solar companies offer secured or unsecured solar loans. Such loans have interest rates as low as 3% APR and terms ranging from 12 to 20 years.
Solar Energy Trends in Montgomery County, Maryland
Interestingly, COVID-19 seems to have spurred a growing of interest in solar. At first, few were contemplating a home renovation in the midst of a highly infectious pandemic. Then, they observed a spike in their electricity bills from months of sheltering in place. With fewer things to spend money on outside of the home, many are engaging in home improvement projects like solar.
Despite a broad consensus on the need to go solar, policy officials and builders don’t always agree on the pace and scope of change. Some county officials want to mandate rooftop solar panels and encourage solar installations over garages and inside residential homes. When the County Executive floated that proposal late last year,
Maryland Building Association (MBA) leaders objected, citing increased construction costs. While they relented in this case, MBA officials acknowledge that consumer demand for solar is growing and are unlikely to oppose all solar mandates in the county’s soon-to-be released 2020 guidelines for energy efficiency in new construction.
In summary, it’s a great time to be looking at solar in Montgomery County, Maryland. Federal incentives will soon be phasing out for residential properties after 2021 and every year you’re not saving money from solar is a year you’re paying more than you should be to Pepco.