Reader Q&A: Go Off-the-Grid with Solar in Baltimore?

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Going solar, buying climate-friendly electricity, and fixing your leaky home are affordable and realistic.
Going solar, buying climate-friendly electricity, and fixing your leaky home are affordable and realistic.

A Baltimore Fishbowl reader commented after reading Md. Climate Scientist: Baltimore Summers will Be Long and Intolerable.

Sarah wrote: “I would love to have practical and realistic info on how to be more energy efficient while living in a 100-year-old brick house in the Baltimore City heat island. Some of the solar panel leasing companies won’t put panels on a flat roof; and it’s unclear how much structural change would be required to install solar panels on the roof-tops here. I will be ready to act when I am confident that we can power our home independent of “the grid” and have reliable service for our installation of choice. Given the current political climate, our choices are currently iffy, costly, and insecure.”

Sarah- I have good news: It’s a sunny time to go climate-friendly. Your suggested to-do list, and what you need to know is below.

It is realistic and affordable to choose sustainable power, and many government-sponsored programs exist to financially support your desire to live in a more climate-friendly home. Maryland’s legislature has passed numerous bills that make our state solar-friendly: net metering, community solar, rebate and energy efficiency programs, and supplier choice at the utility level.  Plus, Uncle Sam threw in a 30 percent federal tax credit.

Here’s a suggested to-do list:

1. Contact MD SUN

This non-profit is staffed with smart people whose only mission is to help Marylanders get the best solar system at the best price. Think of them as independent solar experts who are on your side. MD SUN provides that critical technical and market know-how needed to make a smart solar choice. MD SUN is my go-to group to stay abreast of anything to do with solar in our state because they are also looped in to the legislative angle.

MD SUN’s community solar co-ops are where groups of individual solar buyers band together as one buyer and get group discount pricing. I chatted with the MD SUN’s Program Director Corey Ramsden on your behalf, and asked what a homeowner should do if solar sales people are giving conflicting stories about installing solar. “Get multiple bids from at least three companies. We can connect you with the best installers, bring you up-to-speed on Baltimore’s co-op, and help you identify our home’s solar specs.” said Ramsden. 

2. Learn about Maryland’s community solar bill

Maryland is one of only ten states that has embraced community solar, or solar gardens. The simple idea is that any homeowner who pays a utility bill will have the option to buy, or invest, into a solar installation at another solar-friendly location. The solar energy generated by that homeowner’s portion of the offsite unit is credited back to their home’s utility bill. Can’t you imagine solar panels on huge parking lots, big box stores, schools, buildings. The sky is the limit.

Community solar’s market launch is about two years off  as regulations are being crafted and pilot projects are in the design phase. MD SUN has been at the table in crafting fair regulations.

3. Switch home to 100-percent wind for same price

After you carefully read this article, click here and in two minutes switch your home from BGE’s coal-fired kilowatts to 100% wind for the SAME 9 cent kilowatt price. Another terrific non-profit, Groundswell, has developed a bulk buying co-op to secure the lowest price for ‘green electricity.’ Yes, that was shouty capitals because this is a no brainer; it’s legit, available today, and here’s all the how-to details. More than one-third of Marylanders have switched energy suppliers. 

Maryland passed legislation (notice a pattern) that allows every Marylander with a utility bill to pick a different electricity and natural gas supplier rather than BGE. There are many renewable offerings, to the point it’s confusing.  Groundswell is my go-to because they do all the work for you. Plus, they’re good people who are smart and look out for consumers.

My home has been on green electricity for ten years. You renew once a year, you still get one bill, and BGE continues to service and distribute your electricity. In short, nothing changes except you reduce your carbon footprint by 25 percent. Note to buyers: Only choose a fixed rate price, avoid variable rates that change each month.

4. Fix your leaky home with cash rebates from BGE Smart Energy Savers

Now we get to the not-so-sexy part of being a climate hero – fixing your leaky home, or dull-sounding energy efficiency. I know your 100-year-old-brick house is an energy hog because I also owned one.  Our energy bill was outrageous, and our home was an icebox to boot.

What fueled our 5-year energy reduction project that resulted in a 50 percent drop is the Rocky Mountain High I get each month when I open the BGE bill. Energy efficiency is a long term project and investment, but the financial payoff has been huge, and the results have been very satisfying.

Start with the subsidized home energy audit for $100.

The following projects were partially funded by rebates: new lightbulbs, new heater, new air conditioning ducts, foam insulation in attic and brick walls. Our drafty icebox is now quite warm in the winter. All appliances were replaced with ENERGY STAR versions (rebatable), and I’m a new fan of Lutron light switches that automatically turn lights off when the room is empty.

Each summer we enjoy BGE bill credits because our home is enrolled in PeakRewards.  I also have the HVAC units serviced each year, and the units are running more efficiently.

Lastly, I know this is a ton of information, but I hope to have zeroed in on the key points, and provided the online links that make it realistic for you to take action. Good luck.

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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the monthly environmental GreenLaurel column. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting. She co-wrote the Abell Foundation Report detailing Maryland's dysfunctional energy supplier marketplace and the negative outcomes for low-income households.
Laurel Peltier
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5 COMMENTS

  1. This is extremely useful and helpful information — especially since I think we’re the kind of homeowners who will do one thing at a time, proceeding thoughtfully and carefully. In other words, your advice productively suits people who aren’t able to tackle the problems of becoming energy-efficient all at once. (And, I’m excited about the prospect of buying into a solar coop and will try to stay in the loop on that.) Thank you!

  2. Start with efficiency, then do solar. Making the home as efficient as possible will reduce the amount of energy you need. After you make the home as efficient as possible, you will be able to get more bang for your buck from going solar (especially in a Baltimore row home).

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