Groundswell Stories en Copyright 2018 Groundswell - For Personal Use Only Tue, 13 Nov 2018 15:34:17 -0600 Groundswell Stories 120 Coach Dave’s Playbook: October 2018 ]]> Happy September! A couple of quick policy updates to lead off: 

  • New DC clean energy legislation introduced – In late July, DC councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the Clean Energy DC Act of 2018, which would require 100 percent of the electricity sold in the District to come from renewable sources by 2032. To the disappointment of some activists, the bill does not include a carbon tax. Regardless, I view this as a promising development for the city and I’m excited about the prospect of a more aggressive clean energy goal for the District. For more information, read these articles from The Architect’s Newspaper and Greater Greater Washington. The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club has also published a helpful fact sheet. A public hearing is scheduled for October 9; check out the Council website for more details. 


  • California enacts 100% clean energy bill. With the Governor’s signature on September 10, California enacted legislation requiring the state to obtain 100% of its power from clean sources by 2045. California has become the second state in the U.S. to rely solely on clean energy by 2045. (Hawaii was the first to implement such a plan.) This is a really big deal, because California is such a huge state—in fact, it’s the fifth-largest economy in the world. David Roberts from Vox breaks down what this all means here. I also recommend listening to this podcast episode from The Energy Gang. 


Going Deep: Solar and Recycling  

I don’t think I need to expound on the benefits of solar energy, or its potential to address urgent issues like air quality and global climate change. I do think it’s interesting, and prudent, to look ahead and think about the “lifecycle” perspective for photovoltaic equipment. 

As the solar market expands and competition drives down the cost of photovoltaics, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated that the industry will produce 78 million tons of waste by 2050 -- a wave of 35.3 million panels, not counting the hundreds of millions of panels that flooded the U.S. market in the last decade that may need to be disposed of sooner. The industry standard life span for solar modules (panels) is 25 to 30 years. 

Part of the problem is that solar panels are complicated to recycle. They’re made of many materials, some hazardous, and assembled with adhesives and sealants that make breaking them apart challenging.

Most solar panels are made from glass, polymer, aluminum (frames), silicone, copper and less than 0.1 percent of silver, tin and lead. Silver makes up a very small fraction of the mass of a solar panel, but a very high fraction of its value—about 47 percent. We might think of that as almost half of the incentive a recycler has to recycle a panel. Silver is worth significantly more than other recoverable components—aluminum, copper, silicon and glass.

According to GreenBiz, manufacturers are finding ways around using components that would have value to recyclers, such as copper and silver. What’s more, 75 percent of the material that gets separated out is glass, which is easy to recycle into new products but also has a very low resale value. 

To summarize: the underlying commodity value of the solar panels is falling. The less value a recycler can extract, the less incentive there is to recycle. System owners recycle their panels in Europe because they are required to. Panel recycling in an unregulated market (like the United States) will only work if there is value in the product.

And the recycling process itself is still pretty crude. Involves mechanically shredding and crushing the panels, then chemically separating out the more valuable materials.

Solar panel disposal and recycling isn’t a huge issue right now—in 2018—because there isn’t a big enough volume to cause concern. Solar panels are warrantied to perform more than 25 years, and once the warranty expires, panels will still produce energy, albeit not at their advertised peak. Solar installations in the United States didn’t really take off until 2010. Any influx of panels needing replaced today happens after severe weather events or other accidents.
Where are those damaged panels going now? With no dedicated national program or requirement to safely dispose of solar panels, some unfortunately find their way to landfills. If the system owner is green-minded and has the money, panels may get shipped to a recycling facility. In some cases, they may be stored until a practical recycling program is established.

The broader U.S. industry is just beginning to catch on, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a trade group representing solar power companies and photovoltaic manufacturers, recently established a PV Recycling Working Group to train and equip commercial recycling companies to understand what’s in manufacturers’ products and how to break them down.

Although there’s nothing yet mandated at a national level, a few states are trying to get the ball moving. In July 2017, Washington became the first state to pass a solar stewardship bill (ESSB 5939), requiring manufacturers selling solar products into the state to have end-of-life recycling programs for their own products. Manufacturers that do not provide a recycling program or outline will not be able to sell solar modules into the state after Jan. 1, 2021. Final plans are still being decided. See the Washington State Department of Ecology’s website for more details. 

It will be interesting to see how and whether panel manufacturers use recyclability and recycling programs to differentiate themselves, and whether economics, industry standards or government regulation are the most prominent drivers. 

If you’re curious to read up on the issue, check out this recent webinar hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). And if you want to learn about of battery recycling, this piece from Bloomberg provides projections for this market and references some of the regulatory drivers which are expected to influence the market for battery reuse and recycling moving forward. 

That’s all for now. Until next time! 


Coach Dave’s Playbook: October 2018 John Goldring
We Listened To Our Customers, And Here’s What We Learned,-and-here’s-what-we-learned/ ]]> At Groundswell, we believe that affordable clean energy is a necessity, not a luxury, and that we can’t afford to leave our neighbors in need behind.  Our Share Power© model allows solar subscribers to share their savings with neighbors who struggle with the burden of high energy bills – households that we call Empowered.  

With the help of a “Listen for Good” grant from the Fund for Shared Insight, we’re checking in with our customers regularly through a series of Human Centered Design sessions to tailor a respectful, positive enrollment and support experience for our Empowered customers. In our most recent session, we asked 41 customers how we’re doing and what we can do to better serve them.  This is what we learned:

Communication is key

Groundswell staff received got high marks on our communication skills, likely because we prepared extensively for these interviews. We started each interview by establishing a personal connection, we used interview scripts that we drafted and practiced so our messages were clear, and we actively listened to each customer and asked follow-up questions. Our customers reminded us to use easy-to-understand language when talking about electricity bills and how community solar works, and not revert to industry-speak.

Setting and set-up matter

The physical setup of a location can impact customers’ experiences and the level of respect they perceive from an interaction. Three of our sessions were held in a spacious conference room and a fourth was held outside a community sports facility. The conference room set-up enabled Groundswell staff to sit next to customers for individual conversations, whereas the outdoor location had staff sitting across from customers while other participants flowed in and out of the conversation.

We learned that the outdoor experience would be better suited for creative activity where customers are engaging with each other. For our design sessions, the conference room provided a better set-up given the individual nature of those conversations.

Appreciate your customer

Everyone's time is valuable, and it’s important for us to demonstrate that we value our customer's choice to spend their time and resources with us. This can be as simple as asking for the customer’s honest feedback and incorporating it into future work. We also heard our customers say respect and appreciation can be shown by using a customer's appointment time efficiently, thinking proactively about additional services that may benefit a customer, providing prompt and dedicated attention to a customer's outreach, and communicating requirements in advance so a second appointment is not needed.

Next step: designing community solar enrollment with these learnings in mind

With gratitude for our customers for sharing this feedback with us, Groundswell will incorporate these insights into the design of the enrollment process for our forthcoming community solar projects. By closely listening to our customers, we can offer a respectful, best-in-class customer service experience and show our customers how much we value them.  

We Listened To Our Customers, And Here’s What We Learned,-and-here’s-what-we-learned/ John Goldring
Elevate Energy Puts Landmark Illinois Clean Energy Law to Work for Working Communities ]]>

Through an ongoing collaboration with Mohawk Group, Groundswell recently worked with Chicago-based nonprofit Elevate Energy – a fellow Citi Foundation Progress Maker -- to install a SmartFlower solar system in a community garden in South Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

Elevate Energy is devoted to creating efficiency programs for working communities, and the organization has seen opportunities spike since the passage of Illinois’ landmark clean energy law in 2016. The Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) expanded existing utility energy efficiency programs, placed an emphasis on community solar, and included job training provisions designed to benefit low-income and environmental justice communities, all priorities for Elevate Energy.

Thanks to a grant under FEJA, Elevate Energy broadened the SmartFlower installation event in Chicago with a training program where participating students learned about the project in advance and then observed the installation. Groundswell caught up with Elevate Energy’s Contractor Development Coordinator Eya Louis to discuss how the SmartFlower operates, the importance of the training program for students, and the job fair that followed.

On how the SmartFlower works.

The SmartFlower is a giant sunflower-like sculpture that was installed close to a community garden located in the Bronzeville neighborhood in the south side of the city. In its resting state, it folds up. At a designated time, or when the sun is rising, it opens up and has 12 solar panel “petals.” During the course of the day, it moves from East to West. 

It’s a visually pleasing installment, as well as a great conversation piece for anyone in the neighborhood. 

At our kickoff event for the SmartFlower project, we had our solar trainees there so they could witness some of the things that went into the installation. The instructor talked to them about what the permitting process looked like and will continue to be a point of contact for them, since one of Elevate Energy’s priorities is to make sure each project involves education and employment components. 

On the landmark law (FEJA) benefiting working and environmental justice communities.

The law is designed to expand energy programs that broaden customer savings and provide options for the commercial, industrial and partial-to-low income customers. There’s a commitment to direct roughly $750 million to low-income communities. The other major thing it does is include a provision for job training in the renewable energy field. So it’s not only promoting clean energy but providing clean energy jobs to those located in areas that have historically been disenfranchised.

On FEJA and advancing employment opportunities.

Solar technology in and of itself is just a really great opportunity because the wages — even at entry level — are significantly higher than a lot of other fields. The social and environmental justice benefits are intertwined by helping individuals who live in the communities where a lot of the projects will take place over the next few years. 

Placing individuals from these communities in the jobs that are taking place within their own communities and making that connection is very important because, typically, that has not happened. A lot of the jobs and opportunities that have come into communities are coming from outside, and I think that’s difficult for residents to see. They feel left behind and that’s not the case with this legislation, because of the job training component embedded within in it. 

On upcoming projects.

We just graduated the first of four cohorts for solar PV installer training. We’ll have classes through 2021. We’re connecting our trainees directly with contractors that are currently in the solar market or taking steps to get into the solar market in Illinois. At the conclusion of the class, we host a job fair. 

The other thing we’re doing is a contractor accelerator program, which is for contractors interested in expanding their offerings to solar. We help them navigate what that looks like — between what the new law means and what it means to them as a contractor, as well as how to connect with developers and potentially other contractors who are either minority women or veteran-owned so they can apply for projects that will come online relatively quickly in Illinois. 

Elevate Energy Puts Landmark Illinois Clean Energy Law to Work for Working Communities Tue, 13 Nov 9792 15:38:40 -0600 Taryn Tuss
Coach Dave's Playbook: August 2018 ]]>

Have you noticed you’re paying a higher electric bill than just a few months ago? Let me suggest some useful tips to beat the heat and save some green courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  This DOE infographic will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about air conditionings to help you maintain the best efficiency and help lower your bill.

Now on to the main event:

This month, I want to focus on the state of solar jobs and the outlook for the future employment in the industry given recent volatility.

Let’s start with some data. From 2010 to 2016, the number of solar jobs in the United States nearly tripled (to more than 260,000). In 2016 alone, the solar industry grew 17 times faster than the U.S. economy. By the end of that year, there weren’t only more solar workers than coal miners; there were more people working in the solar industry than were employed by every oil, gas, and coal-burning power plant put together.[1]

In 2017, however, the industry slowed, losing 3.8 percent of its jobs—the first such decline since 2010, when these statistics started being tracked.[2] This dip was mostly due to the near-expiration of the solar investment tax credit (ITC). The ITC, which lets taxpayers erase up to 30 percent of their tax liability by installing solar power, was originally supposed to expire at the end of 2016. As the deadline neared, companies and utilities rushed to take advantage of it, building as much solar power as possible to maximize their savings. (Although the tax credit was ultimately extended, with the phase-out now scheduled for 2021, the production glut was already scheduled. Because of this, spending on solar installations decreased in 2017.) Despite the overall decline, it wasn’t all bad news for the solar industry. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia saw their number of solar jobs increase.2

Then, in January 2018, the Trump Administration imposed new tariffs on imported solar modules (as I discussed back in March). While 2018 probably won’t be a banner year for the U.S. solar industry, some analysts now say the number of new jobs could exceed the 2016 record. The industry is still in growth mode, the solar tariffs weren’t quite as tedious as feared, and many developers hoarded panels in anticipation of the changes to the marketplace.[3]

Before the January 2018 tariffs decision, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) forecasted that 88,000 jobs would be lost or fail to materialize this year. But after the President opted for four-year tariffs that decline annually, SEIA revised its estimate to 23,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, has forecast that solar-photovoltaic installer will be the fastest-growing occupation from 2016-2026, outpacing health care, information technology, and other career tracks.[4]

Considering all this, my advice to those considering a career in solar is this: don’t be discouraged! This is a burgeoning industry with massive potential. The growth in jobs this year may be lower than what it could have been without tariffs, but the industry will keep on ticking along and over the latest “speed bump” in the market.

I’ve been thinking a lot about solar jobs recently. Last month, I had the opportunity to learn firsthand about what it takes to construct a solar system by participating in a residential installation in rural Vermont. While I admit it was nice to escape DC’s heat and humidity for a week, this installation was no cakewalk. As a solar installer, you must have multiple skillsets including roofing, carpentry, and electrical engineering. And of course, safety is of foremost concern when electrical systems are involved, so you have to be methodical and cautious at every step in the process.

Here’s a brief chronology of installation, which took us several days to complete.

On Day 1, we arrived at the job site early in the morning. The racking system had already been installed by a local engineering crew. We quickly got to work unloading panels from a truck, lifting the panels onto the racking, and screwing them down into the racking with brackets and self-tapping screws.


We then connected power optimizers on the back sides of the solar array. Optimizers “condition” the direct-current (DC) electricity produced by the solar cells and send the energy to a central inverter that finishes the conversion process. The “conditioning” process fixes the voltage of the DC energy so that the central inverter can more efficiently convert it to alternating current (AC) electricity.

The array was located about 100 yards away from the house, so we had to pull all of the wiring through conduit and tie them appropriately into the inverter.


Finally, after ensuring we had followed adequate wire management procedures on the backside of the solar cells (you don’t want to leave behind a messy-looking system!), we were done. It was very gratifying to see the home’s electricity meter start to spin backward, indicating that the array was exporting power back to the grid.

I came away with a newfound respect and appreciation for the many skills needed to install a functional and safe solar array. I know we’re already on our way to a greener future where these types of jobs are plentiful and available to all people, and where skilled professionals are training the next cohort of solar installers.


Coach Dave


[1] The Atlantic

[2] The Solar Foundation

[3] Bloomberg

[4] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Coach Dave's Playbook: August 2018 Thu, 13 Nov 6960 15:35:55 -0600 Kristina Overton
A Groundswell Mohawk Collaboration Brings Smartflower Solar Opportunities to 10 Communities ]]>  

Mohawk Group, a global commercial flooring company with a commitment to sustainability, is partnering with Groundswell to begin installing nearly a dozen Smartflower solar systems at community centers and schools with STEM programs across the country.  The innovative projects will bring a cutting-edge asset for financial savings and locally led economic opportunity to communities that need them most -- a key focus of Groundswell’s -- and they will offset the energy Mohawk used to create the company's new Living Products.

Debuting in the market just last year, Smartflowers resemble giant solar sunflowers that bloom when the sun shines. The portable, self-cleaning system represents a breakthrough in solar design and contains solar panel “petals” that are programmed to follow the sun from east to west.


To maximize the potential for the Smartflower projects to spur lasting economic opportunity in communities, Groundswell is working with local organizations to identify where the systems can be incorporated into existing training and education programs.

"Groundswell builds community power, and a critically important part of the work is connecting solar power with economic empowerment," said Groundswell CEO Michelle Moore. By installing [Smartflower solar] at each location, Mohawk is not only enabling each organization to meet its own energy needs, fueled by the future – they’re also creating a visible connection between solar power and the educational pathways each local partner offers as an avenue for economic empowerment through the growth of the solar industry.”

In South Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, Mohawk and Groundswell worked with nonprofit and fellow Citi Foundation Progress Maker Elevate Energy for the first installation in the Renaissance Collaborative’s community garden. The Renaissance Collaborative is a community development corporation that promotes self-sufficiency for members of the local community through a network of employment, housing, and educational services. 

“Our partnership with Groundswell gives us an opportunity to connect innovation and technology with people, place and time,” said George Bandy Jr., vice president of sustainability and commercial marketing for Mohawk. 

Elevate’s contractor development coordinator Eya Louis explained how the local community was immediately invited to become involved in the project.

"We surveyed residents right away to see if there were any established electricians or carpenters or other tradespeople who could be a part of this project," she said. "Next, we offered training in solar installation with a local company. At our unveiling, we had our solar trainees there to witness some of what went into the installation. The instructor talked to them about the permitting process and will continue to work with them."

Rami Vagal, a sustainability coordinator at Mohawk Vagal, said Mohawk will install 10 Smartflowers in the next two years, at an estimated energy savings of approximately 3.3 kilowatt-hours – enough to power 300 average-sized American homes for a year. Up next, Mohawk is looking at Eden, N.C., where one of its manufacturing facilities is based.


Courtesy photos provided by Elevate Energy

A Groundswell Mohawk Collaboration Brings Smartflower Solar Opportunities to 10 Communities Tue, 13 Nov 440 15:35:47 -0600 Kristina Overton
Sharing Power: Paving the way toward inclusive solar access ]]> Expanding the conversation on ways to provide equitable solar throughout the country, Groundswell will be hosting a discussion panel September 10, 2018 in affiliation with the Global Climate Action Summit. Register Here

Sharing Power: Inclusive Project Finance Models for Equitable Solar will be a dynamic breakfast discussion exploring economically inclusive project finance models for solar that expand access for low and moderate income communities and connect solar power with economic empowerment.

The session will begin with fellowship at 8:30 a.m. accompanied by coffee and a light breakfast. The speaking and discussion program will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 10:30 a.m.

Led by Michelle Moore, CEO of Groundswell and former Federal Chief Sustainability Officer for President Obama, and Trenton Allen, Founder and CEO of Sustainable Capital Advisors, discussion topics will include:

  • Specific project case studies for inclusive solar project finance in both rural and urban settings
  • Identification of project development and delivery approaches that are matched to a variety of regulatory and utility service territories
  • Aligning project economic value with community values to build the energy future local residents want to see
  • Connecting solar power with economic empowerment and entrepreneurship
  • Common technical, financial, and communications challenges and strategies for overcoming them
  • Built to work for everyone: The power of customer-centric innovation

About Groundswell

Groundswell builds community power. Groundswell is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that serves as a community solar developer and subscriber management organization, delivering projects that connect solar power with economic empowerment.

The organizations “Share Power” community solar program deploys private capital for social good, and is based on the idea that neighbors care about their neighbors. Groundswell’s solar project finance model is groundbreaking because it treats community solar projects like small utilities instead of big rooftops, therefore eliminating consumer credit and other financial barriers that would impede from everyone being able to enjoy access to affordable solar power.

About Sustainable Capital Advisors

Sustainable Capital Advisors is a strategic consulting and financial advisory firm serving the sustainable infrastructure sector. Sustainable Capital Advisors professionals are experienced in developing and implementing innovative financing structures for renewable energy projects – distributed and utility scale and energy efficiency. Sustainable Capital Advisors professionals have over a combined 40 years and $20 Billion in transaction experience for energy projects.

As a part of their work, Sustainable Capital Advisors recently worked with Vote Solar to publish a report on challenges and solutions to the solar access barriers faced by low-income and low-credit score residents. Learn more about the report here.


The event is open to the public and to the press, and will be live streamed on social media. Maximum attendee capacity is 35 persons, which will enable a dynamic discussion.

RSVP for the event here.

Sharing Power: Paving the way toward inclusive solar access John Goldring
In West Buffalo, a Community Learns to Own its Power,-a-community-learns-to-own-its-power/ ]]>

PUSH Buffalo (People United for Sustainable Housing) has been working since 2005 to create affordable and sustainable green housing and jobs in the West Side of Buffalo.  Next month, the organization will open the doors on its largest project yet: School 77, a community center featuring thirty apartments for local seniors who bring home low and moderate incomes. 

After successfully organizing the community to accept only community focused site redevelopment proposals rather than proposals for profit-driven, gated luxury housing, PUSH Buffalo turned its attention to revitalizing this important neighborhood anchor. The site features several green innovations, including a rooftop solar array that will provide low-cost energy to School 77 residents.  Groundswell became involved in the project as a technical advisor in the design of a subscriber management program for solar energy produced on the rooftop. Among the priorities for local residents were affordability, equity, and predictability.

Groundswell caught up with PUSH leader Sage Green and Board President Maxine Murphy to discuss the project and how the organization grounds its work in amplifying and relying on the voices of the community.

On partnering with Groundswell to turn a vacant middle school into a green zone for Buffalo’s West End residents.

SAGE: Here at PUSH Buffalo, we work across sectors, from progressive affordable housing development and advocacy, to energy efficiency policy advocacy, to campaigns to support policing accountability and immigrants’ rights, to cultural arts initiatives and others to build a resilient community on the West Side of Buffalo in particular, but also city- and region-wide. In a big way recently we’ve invested in renewable energy development and especially equitable renewable energy development.

The project we’re working on this summer (and how we came into contact with Groundswell as a leader in this field) is a community-distributed solar array on an affordable housing development that we are doing on the west side. It’s the largest affordable housing project we’ve done so far: a $15 million project with 30 senior apartments on the second and third floors of an old middle school (formerly Buffalo Public School 77) that developers were looking to make into market-rate housing or luxury housing.

We were able to organize a community campaign to acquire the building and make it into what we wanted (with funding from state and local Low Income Housing Tax Credits). The downstairs will be offices for nonprofits, and PUSH will be one of them, along with two other local activist theater groups.

On the roof of that project, there is now a 64 kW community-distributed solar array that will be owned and operated by PUSH Buffalo and sold to the tenants of the building at a much reduced savings compared to what they’d pay a utility company.

The revenue from this project and the management of this project will all be handled by a citizen advisory board. At the end of the first year of operation, we are planning to hold a participatory budgeting process for the tenants of the building to decide what to do with the revenue from the site. This is the kind of energy democracy that we are working to build and model in New York State. 

MAXINE: I was part of that first trailblazing meeting when we met with Gov. Pataki and clean energy campaigns were just getting started. And we have proceeded to expand our reach and complete new housing projects, energy efficiency projects, and now solar projects, such as School 77.

I’ve seen people’s gas and energy bills reduced, so that’s good news for me. But I’m especially excited about School 77 because it’s the kind of project by which we control our own destiny. It also provides jobs for our community, which is desperately in need of jobs.

SAGE: For all of our projects, we do a community benefits agreement with the developer to make sure they hire from our community first for as many jobs related to the project as possible.

On bringing elected officials to the table.

MAXINE: We have been involved in state level and local proceedings since day one at PUSH. When REV (Reforming the Energy Vision for New York), picked up in 2015, we were the first community group that went in to have a seat at the table so we could have input into what they were saying about our lives.

We went to Albany about three or four times and, finally, they recognized us as an integral part of this process. And we did it by continuing to knock on their doors, by running local campaigns that draw down the state level policy to our communities, and also bring community level needs up to state policy tables. People at the top are not used to people at the bottom being persistent and waiting there long enough to come in and have an intelligent conversation. We had an audience with them and they heard our input.

On prioritizing community involvement at every stage of a project.

SAGE: It’s easy to hope for technology solutions or some cool new model of thinking that are going to answer all the questions to make our communities resilient - especially when times are really hard. But, what we’ve learned in Buffalo is that those new technology solutions and theories of change only work if we fit them to the people and the place that we are in - there is no cookie cutter solution. We have so many of the the answers, insights, and resources on the ground where we live. Good development starts with investing in your people first. At PUSH, we work really hard to lift the voices of everyday people on the ground and create conditions where those people can recognize and then own their power to make decisions about the systems that impact them and their neighbors. It depends on the project or campaign or policy, but working to get people comfortable to sit at that table, ask for what they want, and make their own decisions about the future of their community is always the first step to making solutions that really work. 

MAXINE: Each community is different because they know what they need and live it. Nobody in power wants to give up their power without a struggle.

SAGE: Often times, community plans start with, “Hey, we’ll go out to talk to people and then we’ll go behind closed doors and do what we thought we heard them say.” When that plan comes out on the other side, unless you have those people with you to help you check your work as you’re going, you’re going to lose a lot of the insight and vision. Bring your leaders with you every step of the way - it’s worth it, we swear. And as you create a culture of working together and modeling the kind of energy democracy and transparency that we want to see in the world, you get more and more efficient at it.

On the direct impact of community investment and involvement.

SAGE: Often times, community planners will roll out a plan or project and it looks okay on paper so a community will let it go. But the communities we work with are empowered to monitor the actual short-and-long-term success of these initiatives. In land development, that looks like monitoring the cost of the rent in new housing developments to make sure that it is in line with the local communities affordability index. In energy development, that looks like tracking the impact of energy benefits and the efficiency of energy savings for the issues and resolutions that will make projects work in the long term. This kind of monitoring also creates the conditions where our community can learn, in a hands-on way, how this energy system works and use that knowledge to better support sustainable development. Working out the kinks as new technologies hit the ground, in community, transparently, is huge for community development. 

A lot of the assumptions that people make about what marginalized communities want regarding energy are made by people who have never experienced energy insecurity, who are not marginalized, who are not people of color. And those assumptions that then go in to building these programs are really toxic.

For our community-distributed energy work, there are a lot of people from outside of the community who say that as long as there are greenhouse gas savings or as long as it’s a little bit less than what someone would be paying otherwise, that’s good enough. And it doesn’t matter where that revenue is going. These are built on the assumption that poor people are only interested in saving money in the short term and that when it comes to GHG emission reductions, the ends always justify the means. In reality, the people we work with, who are many of the the people who have experienced the worst every insecurity both in Buffalo for decades, or in the countries they immigrated here from, will say that they want long-term structural changes that impact them and everyone around them to make a whole new system that works for people and the planet.

MAXINE: Exactly. There’s this prevailing idea that poor people will abuse the energy system if you give it to them. But cheap is just a Band-Aid. They want ways that their houses are using less energy. They want houses where their energy is not going out of windows and doors. They want equipment in their houses to function properly. They want the same thing any other community would want. But they have to fight for it harder and demand things a little different.

On what PUSH plans to tackle next.

SAGE: Our next project is all about supplying renewable energy to all of our properties and creating jobs that are top-to-bottom within the energy system, then governing the system so we can keep driving toward sustainability and affordability and then modeling that for the rest of the state.

We’re also very invested in redefining what “green jobs” means. Often “green jobs” translates into “men in hard hats on a construction site” and those are real, but so is subscriber management and marketing for these projects. Green jobs are building the energy sector, but they’re also any job that is not contributing negatively to climate change. This can include neighborhood child care or transportation platforms that are better for all workers. We want to implement projects that can ultimately sustain themselves and our community as a whole in the long run.

MAXINE:  We also want to focus on developing and promoting more geothermal efficiency.

SAGE: Heating problems are the biggest problem in this city. Winters in Buffalo are cold. No matter how much solar you have, you are not going to be able to heat your home with electric heat in any way that’s affordable or comfortable. Figuring out the geo-equation is really big for us.

In West Buffalo, a Community Learns to Own its Power,-a-community-learns-to-own-its-power/ Taryn Tuss
Designing New Ways to Respect the Communities We Serve ]]> At Groundswell, we believe that affordable clean energy is a necessity, not a luxury, and that we can’t afford to leave our neighbors in need behind.  With our Share Power© model, solar subscribers share their savings with neighbors who struggle with the burden of high energy bills – households that we call Empowered.  

We’re grateful that the Fund for Shared Insight recognized this work with a “Listen for Good” grant that we’re using to conduct a series of Human Centered Design sessions to tailor a respectful, positive enrollment and support experience for our Empowered customers. 

As we prepared to partner with Empowered families through community solar projects in Washington D.C. and Baltimore, I traveled to Houston for the 2018 Shared Insight Gathering to learn from other “Listen for Good” grantees and experts.  Many of the attendees were new grantees, just like Groundswell, and we were excited to hear from some of the original grantees about how continuously gathering feedback from their customers has helped them improve their operations and better serve the communities they work with.

The session was rife with useful tips, best practices and pitfalls to avoid in serving high-need populations. For example, grantees found that conducting surveys with pencil and paper worked better than with iPads or tablets; that open-ended questions encourage more honest feedback; and that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk directly with people through focus groups, community meetings and one-on-one conversations to tease out their real feelings and make sure they are not just being polite. 

The speakers drove home the need for us to be mindful of the many challenges low-to-moderate income families face, including access to transportation, language barriers, access to wifi and technology, childcare needs, and limited family time. If we aren’t addressing these needs when we host community-focused events – for example by providing transportation, childcare and translation services -- we’re not really serving the community.

For me, one of the highlights of the meeting was the keynote presenter Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that works to end mass incarceration, represent defendants without adequate legal representation, and exonerate inmates on death row.  Bryan laid out four ways to effectively make changes for those who are poor, marginalized, and forgotten:

1.     Get proximate - you can't help communities fix things if you don't see and talk with them.

2.     Change the narrative; challenge the politics of fear and anger that are perpetuated by stereotypes or negative tropes.

3.     Stay hopeful in philanthropy and strategic change - change is hard and can be intimidating

4.     Do things that are inconvenient and uncomfortable - making systemic and meaningful changes are disruptive to the status quo; when serving others, we need to break out of our shell and shake things up.

Groundswell is committed to all of these principles as we work to connect solar power to economic empowerment in the communities we serve. As we ramp up pre-enrollment for our developing community solar projects, we are looking forward to showing our customers how much they matter to us through an easy, respectful enrollment process that respects their time and needs.

Designing New Ways to Respect the Communities We Serve Taryn Tuss
Coach Dave's Playbook: June 2018 ]]> I’m back this month to report on energy market dynamics and new policy developments across the nation.

Also: Keep an eye out for Groundswell’s Community Power Podcast coming out soon… 

Solar Power Rising

Solar power has just overtaken gas and wind as the largest source of new power in the county. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, 2.5 gigawatts (about 10 million solar panels)[1] were installed in the first three months of 2018, a 13% increase from the same time period a year ago.[2] And for the second consecutive quarter, the amount of new solar installed was greater than any other energy source in the country. This statistic is even more remarkable—and indicative of the resilience of the solar market—when you consider the new tariffs that the Trump administration has imposed on imported solar panels.  These tariffs, along with tax reform, were expected to flatten the solar industry’s growth overall in 2018.

For a different perspective on the state of the solar market, check out this piece from Reuters, which claims that utility-scale solar projects have been frozen or cancelled at more than twice the rate that new solar investments using domestic panels have been announced. This excerpt sums up the main point: “The divided impact on the solar industry underscores how protectionist trade measures almost invariably hurt one or more domestic industries for every one they shield from foreign competition.”

Residential Energy Storage Market Charges Forward

Another “first” for the first quarter of 2018: residential battery installations beat commercial deployments, 15.9 megawatts to 11.7 megawatts. Even more impressively, home batteries rivaled utility-scale installations, which clocked in at a mere 16 megawatts. This is notable because ever since tracking of storage deployments began in 2013, residential batteries have appeared as a blip on the industry wide bar graph—not zero, but an extremely small share of the market. Now, for the first time, the collective amount of a few kilowatts here and there has nearly overtaken the giants of grid-scale mega-projects. That's a result both of large projects having a slow quarter (it’s a “lumpy” market, with frequent bumps and dips) and small residential projects multiplying in number. The growth was driven largely by California and Hawaii, which collectively accounted for nearly three-quarters of all residential energy systems deployed. You can read more here.

California’s Progressive New Building Codes

Buried deep within the latest edition of California’s state building codes were some groundbreaking new standards for new residential construction. Besides the requirement that all new homes under three stories install solar panels—a first for the nation—California’s Title 24 codes incentivize energy storage and include energy efficiency measures that should cut energy use in new homes by more than 50 percent.

Technically, community solar can count toward achieving the solar requirement. Building developers must receive approval from the California Energy Commission and coordinate with their local utility before initiating a project. Unfortunately, subscribers to community solar projects in California can’t receive net metering benefits under current state regulations. As a result, there might not be much of a cost benefit to the customer unless California’s rules change.

The standards take effect in 2020. Now that the codes have passed, the real work begins on the implementation side.

You can find the original building codes here, but I recommend Greentech Media’s helpful write-up for an abbreviated summary.



That’s all for now. I’ll be back with more next month. In the meantime, let me know if you have any comments or suggestions!


Coach Dave

Coach Dave's Playbook: June 2018 Wed, 13 Nov 5140 15:30:38 -0600 John Goldring
A South Bronx Community is Fighting Dirty Air and Asthma with Community Solar ]]>

In the South Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point, local nonprofit The Point Community Development Corporation (“The Point”) is working with the community to use arts and culture to identify just solutions to the environmental and economic challenges in the industrial neighborhood. One of those solutions is community solar: “The Point” is partnering with Groundswell to develop a community solar project that would bring affordable, resilient, community-owned energy to the neighborhood, which houses the second largest food distribution center in the world.

Through first-person poems, outdoor murals and other initiatives, The Point's Community Development Director Angela Tovar facilitates events that explore local experiences with challenges such childhood asthma or unaffordable heating bills, to empower residents to connect their own experiences to economic and environmental revitalization efforts.  A Chicago native, Tovar grew up in an industrial community similar to Hunts Point and is passionate about letting the perspectives of community members lead the Point’s work in urban planning and environmental justice.

Groundswell caught up with Tovar to discuss racial and economic disparities in clean energy solutions, and why she thinks citizen storytelling can bring new voices to the climate justice movement.

On flooding, industrial pollutants and environmental racism in Hunts Point

We have the second largest food distribution center in the world located in Hunts Point. It brings in $5 billion annually and feeds nearly 21 million people a day so it’s obviously a really important piece of the city’s ecosystem and a huge job generator. Although Sandy's arrival at low tide largely spared the neighborhood, there's been a focus ever since on the dangers the area faces from coastal flooding. Of course that focus has largely been on safeguarding the distribution center. We've been working to make sure the city takes into account the impact on the community and the sustainability of any new projects.

It’s interesting that Hunts Point is surrounded by water because while it's vulnerable to flooding, it's also home to a major industrial area where there are quite a few abandoned brownfields as well as many businesses that store toxic substances. The health concerns from the volume of toxic substances and air and noise pollution from the more than 15,000 trucks that drive to and from the distribution center everyday, put the community at risk. 

Hunts Points residents are literally breathing different air than those in predominantly white, upper class neighborhoods. This community, and similar low-income communities of color, are disproportionately at risk and it impacts everything from residents' health to their livelihoods. 

Through our own research, we’ve found our neighborhood has one of the highest energy burdens in New York City. Traditionally, a community’s energy burden will be around 1 or 2 percent of their income. In Hunts Point, we’re looking at around 8 or 9 percent going toward utility bills. Residents know they're at an unfair disadvantage so we try to focus on helping them participate in coming up with solutions, such as developing community solar projects and battery storage. 

On poetry pop-ups and relating climate change to daily life

We have worked with artists, such as the famous Bronx poet Mariposa Fernandez, to engage with our community and relate how residents talk about climate issues back to their everyday lives. Our poetry workshops and art installations have been a wonderful way to give residents an outlet to share their experiences — from their concerns about flooding in the neighborhood to public health issues — and then to connect all of those things back to climate justice.

It’s challenging to get people to engage in talking about many of these issues, which can be very technical in nature. But people are very much experts about their own lived experiences. So someone might not know the solution to alleviating the neighborhood’s energy burden but does know that their utility bills are so high that they’re having trouble paying their other bills and their rent. We try to meet people at a place where they can share their lived experience. We do so in a number of ways, from engaging youth leaders, to bringing in artists from the community, to hosting a podcast.

On The Point's wealth and ownership model

Not only are we trying to put in place plans for a cleaner economy, we are also trying to improve upon wealth and ownership. Our business model focuses on how we can generate revenues that are directed back to the community. That’s our first priority for the next 12 months — how do we make sure individuals can truly benefit from our clean energy programs and don’t have to jump through any barriers to be able to participate. One way for us to guarantee that is if we can own the community solar infrastructure outright, we can then dictate how those services are provided to people in the long term. For example, we don’t want the terms of service to change in the next couple of years because the partnership might have changed. We want to make sure this is a service given to the community permanently. 

On partnering with Groundswell

We value our partnership with Groundswell because we have an expert guide, a group that has done this before and really understands the value of community participation but also decision making and implementation. We’re navigating through this process with a vision in mind, but having not done this before, we don’t have the expertise to understand some of the challenges we could face on a project of this scale. Any time you have a partner who really understands the core values of your work, they can support you in important ways.

A South Bronx Community is Fighting Dirty Air and Asthma with Community Solar Taryn Tuss