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DC City Council Moves To Open Up Local Energy Market

We follow local DC policy and its implications for affordable commercial and residential solar in Washington. Earlier this year members of the D.C.’s City Council proposed a piece of legislation that would have serious repercussions for local energy policy, not only in the swamp, but potentially across the entire nation.

How would it work?

Solar-Sitting-Area-rooftop-solar-1The bill would create and a type of regulatory body not yet seen in the U.S., with the authority to assess and manage the utility under its jurisdiction. What has been referred to as the Distributed Energy Resource Authority (DER), would essentially take control over the planning of the city’s energy distribution- a function that has long been in the hands of Pepco, Washington’s prevailing electric utility.  

Pepco would also be subject to a review by the DER on all grid investment plans that exceed $25 million. This power would ultimately allow the authority to appropriately allow outside developers into the market depending on the information that gets turned over by the company.

The legislators who proposed this bill in early April were Councilmembers Charles Allen and Mary Cheh. Both Democrats, and while Allen has only sat on the City Council for three years, Cheh has been serving the city since 2007. Their plan would make the Washington DER the nation’s first independent regulatory body over a utility.

The purpose of the Authority is to “gather data on how and when energy is used, and create marketplace for renewably-sourced energy to add to DC’s grid,” according to a statement released by Councilman Allen’s office on April 11th.

21st Century Energy Choices

“Given the urgency of climate change, along with improvements in technology, now is the time to modernize how we power our city,” Councilman Allen said in the release.

Allen stated that DC residents are currently spending about $1.8 billion each year in fossil fuels purchased outside of the district. By exposing the city’s energy usage information, the people will have more ability to determine how they get their energy and from whom. Moreover, making the energy sector more competitive will increase jobs and spur local economic development.

Councilwoman Cheh similarly said that a neutral, third-party system for addressing the city’s energy regulation is more beneficial to ratepayers. She stressed that it will ensure that the grid is administered in a fair and effective way, while still maintaining a stable relationship with the utility.

A sea change in the District

In the same statement released by Councilman Allen’s office, Cheh was quoted saying, “It is exciting to have reached this point in time, where efficiency and distributed renewable energy is beginning to be more cost-effective than building traditional electric infrastructure, and I believe this bill is the start of a conversation that will result in a sea change in how we all view and understand the role of sustainable energy in the District.”

This proposal is a promising step for DC ratepayers who would gain more public control of their local grid, and access to the falling costs of clean energy sources such solar power.

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