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Solar panels are rising in Arlington thanks to a county program and federal incentives

Solar panels dot an Arlington home (photo courtesy of Arlington County Department of Environmental Services)

A county program has led to a large increase in solar panels being installed on homes over the last year.

The Arlington 2022 Solar and EV Charger Co-op is a seven-year-old partnership between the county and the non-profit Solar United Neighbors to purchase solar systems in bulk. The co-op, in turn, sells the systems to the customers at about a 20% discount, the program coordinator and a planner with the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE) Helen Reinecke-Wilt explained to ARLnow.

The annual deadline to become a member is today (Aug. 31).

While the co-op is open to residents in Arlington, the City of Falls Church, and other surrounding Virginia localities, Arlingtonians comprise the majority of the membership.

And, since 2021, that has led to a substantial increase in solar panel systems being installed on Arlington homes.

Last year, 90 solar systems were installed in the county through the co-op. Add 17 from other localities, that’s 107 in total. That nearly doubled previous years’ numbers, Reinecke-Wilt said.

Last year’s record-breaking number will likely be exceeded in 2022 as well, the data suggests.

Reinecke-Wilt believes the reason for the uptick is that locals are looking to become more environmentally friendly as the county continues to tout its plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.

I think it’s just a bigger awareness about climate action and the need to take action with more people thinking that they should be involved,” she said.

Locals are also recognizing the potential future savings due to being less dependent on the electrical grid. It’s estimated that households with solar panels save $600 to $1,100 a year on electrical costs, per the table on the co-op’s website.

While there are solar power systems being installed outside of the co-op, most installations in Arlington are through the co-op, we’re told. There are about 620 solar home systems in Arlington with 388 installed through the co-op, per data provided to ARLnow by the county’s Department of Environmental Services.

With nearly 120,000 residences in the county, that remains a small percentage. But the hope is that number will continue to increase due to the program’s growing popularity and the 30% tax credit now available thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act being signed earlier this month.

“The bump from 26% to 30% is [a big deal]. We are seeing a lot more members sign up in the past month and, certainly, I think it’s a reaction to that increase,” Reinecke-Wilt said.

There are reasons why most Arlington homes haven’t gone solar, including upfront costs — sometimes as much as $16,000 even with the tax credits. A roof’s lifespan is also a factor, with most vendors advising homeowners not to install solar panels on a roof older than seven years.

There’s also the still-vibrant (if slowly thinning) Arlington tree canopy, which shades many homes and can prevent sunshine from poking through to generate power. But that’s a good thing, Reinecke-Wilt said, since “it’s always better to have shade than solar because it provides natural cooling and helps the planet in other ways.”

Some residents also may not like the aesthetics of solar panels or hold the misguided belief that they bring down the value of the home.

But the sun seems to be rising on solar panels in Arlington.

At least by the metric of how many have signed up for the co-op, Arlington is outpacing nearly every other neighboring locality including those in D.C. and Maryland in terms of interest, Reinecke-Wilt said. She fully expects that more houses in Arlington will opt to go solar, prompted by the need to help with the climate crisis, federal incentives, and neighbor envy.

“I think it’s just getting to the point where people are starting to really notice it on a lot of homes and are asking their neighbors, ‘Why did you go solar? How did you do?'” said Reinecke-Wilt. “I think it will just continue to grow.”

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Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.

Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.

About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.

The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.

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