Solar energy users on the rise in Southern Maryland
Why does solar continue to enjoy tremendous growth in our tri-county SMECO footprint, growing 2,000 systems in 2016 and now exceeding 4,000 substantial installations, doubling annually since 2009? There are approximately 750 more systems now in various stages of permitting and installation.
Is it possible the financial advantages are slowly being recognized by a discerning public or is this just a good sell job? Are those proceeding with installations a little more optimistic than others, trusting in a 10- to 20-year outlook? Are the many installation concerns not really happening, such as roof leaks, wind damage or structural issues? Has there been an expose by the news media regarding exaggerated claims by installers and unproductive systems? Seems like any such issues would have come to light by now, since this substantial and mostly private initiative started in earnest. With so many systems now around, if curious about the many benefits or concerned about possible issues, you should be able to simply ask a neighbor, friend or fellow worker.
I am proud to encourage this initiative and to provide free financial and technical advice, especially since 2009. Solar has given substantial financial gains to those who purchase and, to a lesser level, to those who lease. Our air is a little cleaner and our kids are a little healthier. Those of us who overproduce our annual needs can sell our gains at wholesale rates back to SMECO which, in turn, can distribute to our cooperative neighbors at normal prices, also avoiding the usual and wasteful 8 percent transmission losses. There are many other benefits I have described in previous letters. One financial downside is the Maryland-based Renewable Energy Credits incentive has dropped dramatically, partially because we are on track to meet our production goals.
One of the stated Maryland goals was to generate 2 percent of our electrical grid requirements by 2020. Thanks to individual and SMECO initiatives, we already exceed that goal in the SMECO footprint. This growth has been so successful, I would be truly surprised if we are able to double again in 2017. However, growth will likely continue to be substantial as the 30 percent tax credit will stay in effect a few more years, as will accelerated depreciation for commercial. Maybe the economy will continue to improve so more can take advantage. Maybe more commercial enterprises will take advantage of the accelerated depreciation which is worth another 30 percent to some. Maybe our many paved parking lots will be utilized more. Maybe permitting requirements and fees will be scaled back to earlier levels to make projects more feasible and costs more reasonable. Maybe our banks will become more flexible and economical when lending for solar. Maybe the real estate agencies and homebuyers will come to better recognize the asset value of solar. Maybe architects and builders will take pains to install clean, south-facing roof structures. Maybe the general public will accept solar panels as beautiful signs of technology and innovation.
I continue to read news articles concerning the data on global warming and climate change. While we cannot wish it away and while we continue our addiction to fossil fuels, maybe a larger percentage of the public will do individual parts. As a friend recently told me, he would like to invest in solar but he has other priorities. I would especially like to encourage churches to participate more. While they get no tax benefits and payback is at the 5 percent to 7 percent level, they generally have a concerned membership, inviting rooflines and paved parking lots or expansive landscapes to accommodate frames. I only know of St. John Vianney Church in Prince Frederick that has actually proceeded with solar.
So I appreciate all those who are able to participate in this initiative, and I invite others to join. Installations are generally cheaper than a new pickup, and you get most of your investment back in a few years to boot. Mike Thompson, Hollywood