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Residents Assail Solar Program

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

Two years ago the District announced a program to help people install solar panels on their homes. At the time it seemed to be one of the most attractive packages in the country: the city's rebate and a federal tax credit could cover two-thirds the cost of a solar installation. But since a successful pilot stage, the program appears to have fallen into disarray.

Anya Schoolman is president of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop, a group of homeowners who are installing solar power together. She says the grant program is at a near standstill, and the problems go back to the beginning of the program.

"It's just been this ongoing chaos of not knowing what was the status of your application, they would lose applications but they wouldn't let anybody know," she says.

Mickey Martinez was among the very first applicants last year.

"The official in charge said look, we're not staffed yet," says Martinez.

In fact, the $2 million dollar program was never fully staffed. It was run as a side project by one overworked individual and a series of rotating interns. Forms were lost, forms were rejected, Martinez didn't receive his money until October--nine months after he should have received it. He says the whole point was to receive the check BEFORE you paid the bill, which, without any incentive, can easily be $30,000.

"I know that point was crucial for a number of homeowners, not everyone just has that lying around," he says.

The program's problems have hurt more than homeowners. Edith Westfeldt is deputy director of Workforce Development at the Community College of D.C. She says the school created an entire 'green jobs' training program built around the demand for solar grants, but then couldn't implement it.

"Because of the delay of getting the rebates out, the prime candidates we had for the solar training had to go find other jobs," says Westfeldt. "It is a little heartbreaking."

Many of the major players in the region's solar industry say they are steering clear of D.C. for the moment and focusing business in Maryland.

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