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Solar Power Free to Low-Income Homes in DC


Solar panels are an increasingly common sight on the tops of homes in wealthy parts of Washington, D.C. Now the costly technology is moving into a poorer area of the city. And, the people who live there are getting the panels for free.

Southeast Washington D.C. is an area known more for low-income housing than new technology. But several homes in Southeast now are topped with solar panels.

Tila Felder is among those who have received solar panels for her home. She praised the lower energy costs.

"I am very excited. My electric bill has really dropped. The last few months it's been $40 per month [compared to] $200 a month."

Local officials make these solar panels available to residents whose yearly earnings are at or below $50,500 for a family of three. A family of four can make up to $60,000 a year and qualify for the panels.

Ted Trabue is with the local government program, DC Sustainable Energy Utility. He says they plan to put solar panels on hundreds more homes.

"We're doing about 135 this year; next year the goal is 200. We've been able to hit ours goals every year for the last four years. In the years after that, the funding looks secure. I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to do more like 250 homes."

Atta Kiarash installs solar-equipment. He says he will set up as many as 1,200 solar panels this year. That is not a high number compared to states like California. But Mr. Kiarash and other Washington officials believe the number of installed panels could double by 2016.

"Most of the time; most of our clients hear (of) us through word of mouth, through other jobs we've done in the past or through existing clients, and what they do is they reach out to us and we do the income qualification and we come out and do a site visit and make sure that they qualify. And if they qualify, we just put them on our construction schedule and we get the job started.

The program is paid for with fees from factories and oil processing centers for their carbon dioxide emissions. Government officials expect millions of dollars in savings as the solar panels become more popular. They believe energy subsidies to poor families will be cut and electric costs will go down. They add that new jobs will be created.

Edwin Amaker also lives in Southeast Washington. He is pleased with the 16 new solar panels on his roof.

"Well, I was told that I would save between 30-40 percent which is major, you know, when you start talking about the price of energy nowadays. So I like that; the less money out of my pocket, the more money I have for the family."

Washington officials hope to start a program next year to help small businesses install solar panels on their buildings. They hope to turn the nation's capital into an environmentally-clean solar city.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA’s Roman Mamanov reported this story from Washington. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

solar panel n. a large, flat piece of equipment that uses the sun's light or heat to create electricity

install v. to make a machine, a service, etc. ready to be used in a certain place

client n. a person who pays a professional person or organization for services

construction n. the act or process of building something (such as a house or road)

schedule ­n. a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done

emission – n. something sent out or given off

subsidy – n. money that is paid usually by a government to keep the price of a product or service low or to help a business or organization to continue to function

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