1st community solar program in Montgomery Co. comes to Silver Spring apartments

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich cuts the ribbon on a solar panel at the Paddington Square Apartments in Silver Spring. (WTOP/Kristi King)

The first community solar project in Montgomery County, Maryland, that launched Tuesday is a step toward the county’s goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, and it’ll help people in low- and moderate-income households a few different ways.

“It’s a double victory. It’s good for the residents here. But it also makes sure they get to maintain affordable housing,” County Executive Marc Elrich said.

The project at Paddington Square Apartments in Silver Spring involves the installation of hundreds of solar panels that will generate electricity to be fed back into Pepco’s power grid.

“The solar project on top of this roof means that these apartments will not be torn down and these people displaced,” Elrich said while adding that the master plan for the area intended for the complex to be torn down.

“This ‘community solar’ is available to everybody,” Tom Deyo, CEO of the Montgomery County Green Bank explained prior to the event.

“If you’re a renter, and you’re paying [the] electricity bill, you can participate in community solar. If you’re a homeowner and you can put solar on your property, you can participate in community. So you buy a subscription, and you get the benefits on your electric bill,” he said.

Montgomery County is offering free subscriptions to the program for low- and moderate-income households. Applicants must apply to participate through the project’s developer, Groundswell. Both Montgomery County and D.C. offer subscriptions to join their community solar programs at market rates.

The project at Paddington Square Apartments is about three quarters done, with 748 solar panels installed so far.

Bradford Boston of SunCatch Energy is overseeing the building of the system at Paddington Square Apartments that he likens to a small power plant. He’s a fourth generation electrical contractor whose great grandfather and great-grand-uncle were the city of New Orleans’ first licensed Black electricians.

“They electrified homes that didn’t have electricity,” he told those assembled. “So, it’s really quite a turn of events for me to be here to bring solar power, especially in this environment, with the volatility in the climate, the volatility in the economy, to help with the environment to help with people’s living income. It’s just a real treat, you know, we get all of this awful news about what’s happening, but to be on the cutting edge of the knife fighting against it. It’s just a really good feeling.”

County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz predicted that more community solar sites are in the county’s future.

“Today represents hope, today represents innovation, today represents collaboration, and today represents the future,” he said. “I have four kids under the age of 12. And every generation’s responsibility is to make sure that the generation coming behind us is left something much greater than us. This is that, and there will be many more opportunities moving forward.”

Dominion Energy in Virginia has a community solar three-year pilot underway; its first project in White Stone, Virginia, near Rappahannock is under construction and will be energized by the end of 2021 or the start of 2022.

“Customers are invited to pre-enroll to contribute towards sustainable energy and add more solar to Virginia’s grid,” spokeswoman Peggy Fox said. “We continue to work with solar developers to expand the community solar portfolio.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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