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Leon Keshishian is vice president of East Coast operations for SolarCity.
Leon Keshishian is vice president of East Coast operations for SolarCity. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

While solar panels were once the domain of hyper-environmentalists and those seeking to go off the grid, they're beginning to go more mainstream. San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity, which began expanding in Maryland a few years ago, has capitalized on the trend.

Some customers can opt to spend thousands at once for rooftop solar panels through SolarCity and reap big tax incentives. But SolarCity has become primarily known for allowing customers to lease the panels and pay only for the cost of the power they produce. The company also offers customers long-term loans to buy the panels with monthly payments.

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The company has attracted billions in investment funding from Google, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, among others. Leon Keshishian, SolarCity's vice president of East Coast operations, says the company has been doubling in size each year and has thousands of customers in Maryland. The company has locations in Hunt Valley, Beltsville, Clarksburg and White Plains.

How does the process work to switch to solar and how does the cost compare to traditional electric service from a provider like Baltimore Gas and Electric?

People are surprised at how easy and affordable it is to make the switch to solar. Most residents and businesses can get solar installed with no upfront cost and pay less for the electricity than they pay for utility power. Once we make sure your location and roof work for solar — the biggest factor is that you get plenty of sunlight — we can get you signed up. SolarCity handles everything from beginning to end — permitting, installation and repair service. Once you're up and running, you can see your solar production anytime with our MySolarCity App. ¿

Has Solar City encountered any troubles with permitting or other regulatory hurdles in Maryland?

At the state level, Maryland has taken all the right steps to build a growing and vibrant clean-energy economy that creates jobs and provides consumers with real choices. It's a key reason the state ranks near the top on the East Coast for both jobs and solar installations — solar employs several thousand people in the state. At the local level, some counties move faster than others. Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Harford, Carroll and Howard counties understand solar and have a thorough, quick and professional approval process that make them leaders in Maryland.

What are SRECs, and how do they work?

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates are one of the mechanisms the state uses to help encourage clean energy — there's a market that they're traded on and they can fluctuate in value over time. SolarCity customers don't have to worry about selling their SRECs or the value — SolarCity incorporates the value of the SRECs to lower the price the customer pays.

Are the solar panels more popular with residential customers or business customers?

Both. The ability to lock in lower energy rates long term with clean solar power is attractive to businesses and homeowners. Residential customers make up the majority of our business — but commercial, municipal and businesses are an important part of our work here, too. We've announced commercial projects with businesses including Wal-Mart and MOM's Organic Market, educational institutions like Chesapeake College and municipalities such as Queen Anne's County and Centreville.

Customers have long been slow to embrace solar panels. What do you think are the reasons for that, and how can it be turned around?

I'd say that's an outdated view. Solar is one of the fastest-growing industries in the state and country — SolarCity has been approximately doubling in size each year. Since SolarCity launched in Maryland in 2011, we've grown to have over 330 staff and have thousands of customers. I think the big change has been increasing awareness that solar is so much more affordable and easy today. Once people realize they can pay less than they pay for utility power from Day One, they typically become very interested.

Leon Keshishian

Title: SolarCity's regional vice president for East Coast operations

Age: 45

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Residence: Montgomery County

Education: Georgetown University

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Family: Wife, Dr. Daphne Keshishian; three children, Armand, Ila, Lilit

Interests: Mountain biking, golf, mentoring Georgetown University students as regional scholarship director

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