History of the Solar Panel Efforts

June, 2011:  sustainably-excited electrons are coming from the 190-odd solar panels on Adat Shalom’s roof, straight into the building to be used, or fed back into the grid!  We did it!  Kudos to the entire team (including Kenergy, Altus, and GW-IPL) and the entire congregation for persevering, and for making us the first Jewish institution in the DC area — and only the fifth area faith community, with the largest of the installations to date! — to go solar.

More information is viewable from the home page, including the December 2010 Washington Jewish Week story, and the July 2011 updates and photos from the interfaith green expo we hosted.  Below are a few snapshots from the long and winding road that led to this moment; folks from our team are more than happy to speak with leaders of other congregations looking to understand the process, and hopefully to replicate our successful outcome….

September 21, 2010:  The Synagogue Board Voted, Unanimously, To Pursue the Solar Task Force’s Recommendation

to pursue competitive bids from ESCO’s (Electric Service Companies, i.e. outside investor-installer-vendors) toward putting a solar array on part of the synagogue roof, capable of generating up to 40% of our average electric use (and selling the rest back into the grid whenever we generate more than we use), AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

By the end of 2010, we should be the first Jewish institution in the area to substantively GO SOLAR !!!

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A lot of work by a lot of folks helped us get this far.  Kudos to the entire working group — Bill Halpern, Sheila Blum, Anya Schoolman, Louis Tenenbaum, Bob Lubran, Steve Kaufman, Steve Shapiro, Sheila Feldman, Joelle Novey, and Rabbi Fred.  Special thanks to Steve Kaufman for his firm’s pro-bono support; to Joelle Novey for the great resources of Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light (www.gwipl.org); and to Bill for his steadfast leadership.

Many on the task force wanted us to pursue a true, 100% ‘community solar’ approach, in which members of the synagogue community (together with others ) would band together as investors, create their own LLC which could then take advantage of the tax incentives, be paid back over time making this a safe but low-return investment, and negotiate terms most favorable to the institution.  Tempting as this was, the questions surrounding it were too great, and an early sense of the Board suggested that this was not the way to go.  (This approach has worked elsewhere, however, and is quickly gaining momentum; if you the reader are from another community considering ‘community solar’, don’t be dissuaded!  And see the other tab here under “Solar Roof Effort” for more on the community solar model).

Instead, we realized that any number of investor-installers could competitively bid on putting in our solar array — and that we could put our roof to this sacred energy-saving use while locking in favorable electricity rates for many years, all without spending a penny of synagogue funds.  Simply, the ESCO will install and own the panels which are placed on our roof, and which feed carbon-free generated-onsite sustainable electricity straight into our building.  The ESCO recoups much of the cost of the system via federal and state tax credits (which non-profits like us can’t claim which is why we need such an outside party to make it work), accelerated depreciation, and the sale of the SREC’s (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) which come with the installation.  They recoup the rest through the synagogue paying them, at or below market rate, for the electricity generated by the panels.  So the ESCO makes a safe and sound investment; the synagogue goes greener and guarantees reasonable rates for a portion of its electric use (and may be able to purchase the panels outright at a discount some five to ten years hence and then save even more thereafter); and more solar panels go up, and less carbon goes into the atmosphere.  Everybody wins.

We’re very excited about this — check back in this space within three months of this momentous board decision (i.e. late December of 2010) to see where are, and how far this has come!

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as a prosaic snapshot of one phase in our ‘due diligence’ as we pursued the best possible approach to putting solar panels on our roof , see organizer Sheila Blum’s March 2010 update, below — one of many along the way.  It took a lot of work by a lot of people, but we got there!  And every community that does this, as the model gets more popular and more replicable, should find it easier and easier…

A.S. Solar Working Group Status Report – March 15, 2010

–We received and circulated the proposal from Jigar Shah’s company for a solar energy services arrangement (outside investor option). We are discussing the advantages and disadvantages of this option. We plan to learn whether they would be willing to modify some of the terms of their proposed PPA to make it more favorable to AS.

–Our last Working Group meeting was attended by Dennis Horn who offered some very helpful ideas. He has agreed to review materials as requested.

–A site visit was made by Maggio Roofing on March 10, and we are waiting for their proposal for a thin film installation. Thin film PV is much less efficient per square foot than traditional PV, but it works better in diffuse light, for example partial shading. Maggio raised a major concern: that the roofs over the classrooms and over the social hall–which all the other installers suggested are optimal for solar–are likely to need replacing within the next few years. (The rubber membrane roof over the main part of the building is fine, however.) We are exploring options whereby the solar project replaces those modified bitumen roofs with a highly efficient/reflective lifetime guarantee roof as part of the solar installation.

— We are planning to arrange for one more site visit — by Capital Sun Group. We will then have lots of data to analyze. compare, and draw conclusions from.

–We are working on obtaining the LLC formation document and PPA used by St. Paul’s Church in Walnut Creek, CA which may be one of the only successful solar projects of the “inside investor type” so far. We still have some significant legal obstacles to sort out in order to develop the inside investor model (SEC rules, tax issues, passive/active investor rules).

–We found a company willing to manage the books, billing and other on-going details if we pursue the inside investor model and have gotten an estimate of the costs of this service. This was an important missing piece of information.

–Have not succeeded in reaching Lisa Max (maybe info in directory is not correct) but Anya has found another person to do spreadsheet analyses.

— I plan to contact you again shortly to give you an idea of when we expect to have completed our analysis of the alternative options to acquire a solar PV system for AS, optimal size of system, energy cost savings, system monitor, etc. We are working as hard as we can to fully develop two complete comparable options — to enable a serious discussion of pros and cons by the decision-makers (including the board?).

–After the above has taken place, we would begin planning how to educate the AS community and build excitment about the impending green power.

–Common Cents Solar is understandably anxious to know if we are interested in moving forward with them. They are fine people, but we are somewhat uncertain because of their reluctance to answer the questions we posed to them. It may be possible to initiate and operate an inside LLC-PPA arrangement — if that’s the way we decide to go — with another management company. But they deserve an answer. Any guidance?

–I want to thank the members of the Working Group, with a special acknowledgement of Anya’s major contributions, despite her extremely busy schedule.

Sheila Blum
For the Solar Working Group

One Response to “History of the Solar Panel Efforts”

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  1. Welcome to Adat Shalom’s Repairing the Earth Blog « Repairing the Earth - July 20, 2011

    […] History of the Solar Panel Efforts […]

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