Sustainable Energy Trust Fund

July 26, 2021


The District of Columbia's Retail Electric Competition and Consumer Protection Act of 1999 required the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) to establish a public benefits fund to provide energy assistance to low-income residents, and to support energy-efficiency programs and renewable-energy programs. This fund, known as the Reliable Energy Trust Fund (RETF), took effect in 2001. In October 2008, the District of Columbia enacted the Clean and Affordable Energy Act (CAEA), which effectively eliminated the RETF and replaced it with the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF). This program is administered by the third-party DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) which develops, coordinates, and provides programs for promoting the sustainable use of energy in the District of Columbia. Since 2011, DCSEU has saved residents $1.2 billion in energy, invested over fifty million in low-income communities, and prevented 6.2 million tons of greenhouse gases. For more information on the DCSEU's success visit here.

The SETF is financed by a non-bypassable surcharge on the electric and natural gas bills of utility customers who are not Residential Aid Discount (RAD) or Residential Essential Service (RES) customers. The surcharge for natural gas customers is calculated on a per term basis and is assessed at $0.011 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, $0.012 in FY 2010, and $0.014 in FY 2012 and each subsequent year. The surcharge for electric customers is calculated on a per-kilowatt-hour basis and is assessed at $0.0011 in FY 2009, $0.0013 in FY 2010 and $0.0015 in FY 2011 and each subsequent year. The October 2008 legislation also established a separate Energy Assistance Trust Fund (EATF). The EATF collects a surcharge of $0.006/term from natural gas sales. It collects $0.0000607/kWh from electric sales in general, plus an additional assessment $0.00069/kWh for June - September 2010. Electricity collections were formerly set at $0.0004/kWh, but the law regarding the EATF surcharge was amended in 2010.

The 2020 annual budget amounted to just under twenty million dollars, any unused funding will carry over to the following year. Notable expenditures include $2.4M to low-income multifamily projects, $814,000 in energy rebates to businesses, $1.1M to workforce development, and $4.4M to custom commercial renovations and installations. 

In the past, the RETF program supported weatherization measures; appliance replacements for low-income residents; RAD extension; LIHEAP expansion and education; energy efficiency for small businesses, institutions and non profits; ENERGY STAR appliance and lighting rebates, home energy ratings and loan promotions, public education and outreach, distributed generation and net metering; and renewable-energy demonstration projects. The program website listed at the top of this page contains a detailed history of the RETF/SETF.


Per DC Code § 8-1774.01, the Mayor, through the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), is charged to contract with a Sustainable Energy Utility -- the DCSEU -- to conduct sustainable energy programs on behalf of DC. In March of 2011, the SEU contract, which is designed to administer sustainable energy programs in the District, was awarded by the DC Council to Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), a non-profit organization. VEIC has partnered with dozens of local organizations to implement the program, with VEIC principally responsible for program-design and management. In the first year of the contract, VEIC is required to implement energy-saving measures in low-income multifamily homes, to arrange for energy-saving installations in commercial buildings, and to create green jobs, among many other initiatives. VEIC operates a similar program in Vermont and also has helped set up programs in Oregon, Delaware, and Maine. An annual independent review of the performance of the SEU is to be conducted beginning in FY2012,  under § 8-1774.05(k) of the D.C. Code.

Program Overview

Implementing Sector: State
Category: Regulatory Policy
State: District of Columbia
Incentive Type: Public Benefits Fund
Web Site:
Start Date:
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies:
  • Solar Water Heat
  • Solar Space Heat
  • Geothermal Electric
  • Solar Photovoltaics
  • Wind (All)
  • Biomass
  • Yes; specific technologies not identified
  • Wind (Small)
  • Anaerobic Digestion
Types: Energy efficiency, low-income assistance, renewables
Total Fund: $7.5 million in 2009
$15 million in 2010
$17.5 million in 2011
$20 million in 2012 and each subsequent year
Charge: Non-bypassable surcharge based on kWh use


Name: DC Code § 8-1773.01 § 8-1774.01 et seq.
Date Enacted: 10/06/2008 (subsequently amended)
Effective Date: 10/22/2008


Organization: District Department of the Environment
Address: 1200 1st Street, NE
Washington DC 20002
Phone: (202) 535-2600

This information is sourced from DSIRE; the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. Established in 1995, DSIRE is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University.