As Alice Payne of Capitol Heights stared at the 22 new solar panels on the Vivian M. Dodson Municipal Building, she remembered asking the Capitol Heights Town Council 15 years ago if they would look into exploring solar energy — particularly for seniors trying to lower their energy bills.
“Now that it’s coming to fruition, we can put it back on the table again,” Payne said of the solar panels.
Payne, along with other residents, officials and students, toured amenities in the town’s “Green Demonstration Project” room, an area in the municipal building designed with energy-efficient products that will serve as a meeting space and as a model for residents to view items they could use for their own homes to reduce energy costs.
The new energy efficient additions to the municipal building’s community room were funded with a $114,000 Energy Efficiency Community Development Block Grant the town received in 2010, according to Town Administrator Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth. Capitol Heights spends between $10,000 and $12,000 annually on utility costs for its municipal building, Bailey-Hedgepeth said. She said she anticipates being able to reduce the costs by one-third with the new solar panels.
Residents can tour the room — which includes samples and displays on solar panels like the ones on the roof, energy efficient light bulbs, a dual-flush toilet that has buttons to use more or less water as needed — three days per week through September by appointments made at least three days in advance, Bailey-Hedgepeth said. Appointments can be made by calling the municipal building at 301-336-0626, she said.
Atiya Atah, who conducts the tours, said people at all income levels can do something to reduce energy consumption. Atah said a major issue is sealing areas inside the home where drafts can enter through places residents don’t expect, such as through a light switch panel. She said a pack of light switch sealers, which can be installed behind a light switch panel to seal any holes, costs $2 to $3.
“These are things we don’t think of,” Atah said. “It takes someone to bring it to your attention.”
A gazebo in front of the municipal center playground also features solar panels that will power lights on the gazebo and a “green roof” where vegetation is grown to keep the roof cool, which leads to a cooler interior, Atah said.
Mark Davis, president of WDC Solar, a District-based solar panel company whose panels are on the Town Hall and gazebo roof, said the senior population is a part of the market that needs to be paid attention to because of their limited income.
“If they can save $30 to $40 a month, that’s $30 to $40 a month they can put toward their mortgage or their food bill,” Davis said.
It could cost between $15,000 and $19,000 on average for a homeowner to install solar panels but half of that cost could be offset in the future via rebates and tax credits through the state and federal government for using the panels, Davis said.