Bowie, MD: Solar Roadmap Champion
A Case Study
The City of Bowie, Maryland is located in southern Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. Bowie is the largest city in Prince George’s County with a population of 54,727. Bowie is a member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), which participated in the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge II through Optony USA’s Solar Roadmap program. Bowie joined the Solar Roadmap in 2013 and over the next 18 months rose to third place nation-wide, out of 178 communities participating in the Solar Roadmap.
The City of Bowie has had a strong interest in climate action since 2009, when the Bowie City Council formally adopted a climate change policy for the City. The City government began to work on renewable energy and energy efficiency in earnest after receiving a U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant (EECBG).
In 2013 Bowie began development of a Climate Action Plan. The Plan established a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 20% below 2007 levels by 2020 and includes specific actions to increase solar deployment in the City:
- Increase the number of residential and commercial solar systems installed by promoting solar technology.
- Complete the Solar Roadmap goals.
- 24.76 MW of solar installed community-wide by 2020.
Developing the Climate Action Plan involved significant community outreach. Through these conversations, Bowie staff learned that City investment in renewable energy was the top climate priority for community members. Additionally, City staff observed a very strong interest in on-site rooftop solar among homeowners and local businesses.
Bowie joined the Rooftop Solar Challenge II in 2013 through Optony USA’s Solar Roadmap program, and included the Roadmap in its official Climate Action Plan. Bowie staff met with Optony to review the Solar Roadmap objectives, determine which were under the City’s purview, which were feasible for the City to achieve, and which measures complemented the City’s current goals.
Bowie decided to pursue nine objectives under financing and market development (the City does not have permitting or zoning authority, which is done by the County). The table below displays Bowie’s Solar Roadmap Objectives and the actions the City has taken to achieve them.
Central Information Source
To encourage solar education and awareness, Bowie updated the renewable energy information page on the City’s website, and added information about solar evaluation, financing options, workforce development, and training programs. The City also created a solar map (pictured at left), which includes basic information on all of the solar installations in Bowie, as provided by the Permitting office.
Bowie Solar Co-op
After hearing interest in solar from so many residents, Bowie staff decided to host a solarize campaign. The city worked with MD SUN, a project of Community Power Network, which runs solar co-ops in Maryland.
MD SUN organized information sessions and workshops, participated in community meetings and events, and provided technical assistance to co-op members throughout the process, from issuing the RFP and selecting the installer, to evaluating homeowners’ finance options and roof feasibility for solar. By going solar as a group, co-op participants were able to get a significant discount compared to market rates.
Bowie Goes Solar
Bowie also focused on leading by example, and pursued several actions related to installing solar on City facilities, specifically:
- Explore installing solar at municipal facilities, including landfill and water treatment facilities;
- Survey brownfield sites for solar development opportunities.
Having these goals encouraged Bowie staff to expand and prioritize the list of potential solar sites on City land, and to look into brownfield solar potential for the first time.
Bowie has now installed rooftop solar at six City facilities, including the wastewater treatment plant, the Parks and Grounds building, and the Senior Center. Several of these projects were made possible by an annual budget allocation for municipal solar projects, which the Bowie City Council created in 2013 after pilot projects in 2011 showed that procuring solar PV for City facilities had long-term financial benefits.
Bowie is in the process of installing 4 MW of solar capacity, divided between two City-owned properties. For these two projects, Bowie is riding neighboring Montgomery County’s solar PPA contract. The ability to bridge other municipal contacts significantly reduces upfront administrative costs, and means that, on balance, future solar projects will be easier and more cost-effective for Bowie to complete.
Keys to success
Bowie’s evolution into a solar-friendly community and its success with the Solar Roadmap has been facilitated by several valuable features:
Political and community support:
The Bowie City Council and the community at large have been very supportive of renewable energy deployment, both on City facilities and in the community. This support has helped to lay the groundwork for solar-friendly policies and built excitement around solar energy.
Dedicated Solar Resources:
Bowie’s annual budget allocation enables the City to optimize its solar investments and makes it easier to do long-term capital planning for solar procurement. As more localities incorporate solar into long-term climate plans, solar may become a more regular feature of long-term capital budgets.
In 2014, Bowie was designated a Maryland Smart Energy Community (MSEC), and received a small grant to support renewable energy programs, including the 19.24 kW wastewater treatment plant solar project. The MSEC program’s goals closely complement the Solar Roadmap, which brought more resources and staff time to both efforts.
The Solar Roadmap project coincided with the beginning of Bowie’s Climate Action Plan development process. This allowed the City to fold Solar Roadmap objectives into Action Plan outreach activities, and to make the Roadmap one of the City’s official Climate Actions.