Groundswell Stories en Copyright 2019 Groundswell - For Personal Use Only Wed, 12 Jun 2019 14:07:42 -0500 Groundswell Stories 120 Groundswell named the winner of the Bronze Stevie® Award®-award/ ]]> Groundswell was recently named the winner of a Bronze Stevie® Award in the Energy Industry Innovation of the Year category in The 17th Annual American Business Awards®. The American Business Awards are the U.S.A.'s premier business awards program. Learn more about why we were selected and what the judges had to say. ]]> Groundswell named the winner of the Bronze Stevie® Award Thu, 12 Jun 5400 15:57:42 -0600®-award/ John Goldring Black Green History: Growing Opportunities from Within ]]> During Black "Green" History month, it's important to highlight and recognize individuals in the community who are actively making progress toward change within sustainability and environmentalism. This year, our theme focused on those "making" history, and changing the way we do things within the green community to improve efforts for the future. In an interview with Suncatch owner, Brad Boston, we asked about his unique experience and history working in electric and solar construction. With SunCatch, Brad advocates and facilitates opportunities for workforce development and education, bringing awareness and jobs to the clean energy field. 


When did you get your start in electrical and solar construction?

I come from a family of electrical contractors, James Frank McKay being the first licensed African-American electrical contractor in New Orleans. I am a 4th generation electrical contractor, so it was a natural progression since my family has been working in the field since 1914. I’ve been on job sites since I was 5 years old. Out with my grandfather and uncles and great uncles doing electrical work; except I never thought of it as work—it was natural. In middle school, I already had customers. People who would look me up to do work for them like hanging lights, installing new outlets-you name it.  I got my first license in electrical construction in the state of California in 1988. In 2010, I made the transition from regular electric construction to solar construction. It seemed like the best progression considering where the market was going, and in this field it’s good to get in before you get left behind. I started Suncatch in 2016.


Were you always interested in solar?

I’ve always been a sustainability-minded person, so solar was a natural transition. I grew up in California and was a vegetarian before being a vegetarian was cool. Going solar not only aligned with my personal values, but the values that are necessary to save our planet. There is only so much air and water to go around, but the sun provides more energy than we’ll ever need. So by harnessing solar power we have a resource that doesn’t cause pollution, instead we create an alternative energy source that can help to reduce it. We have to make the most of that. One day I’ll have grandkids, and I want to leave this world better than the way I found it for them. And part of that depends on what we do now.


What was the motivation to launch your own solar business in 2016?

I’ve always been independent, and starting my own company was part of getting back to my roots. I worked in our family business for years and I wanted to get back to enjoying the independence and creativity of owning my own business. The exponential growth that was taking place in solar created an emerging market in the electrical field that I knew would offer a lot of great opportunities, not only for the environment, but for my professional development as well.


Suncatch prioritizes workforce development of its employees. Has that always been an important aspect of your business?

In the early days it wasn’t called workforce development. My grandfather was always a second chance kind of guy. He fostered returning citizens to help them out and give them opportunities to get back on their feet. People who were in halfway houses, had psychological problems, or needed assistance in other ways-- he would bring them on. My grandfather simply felt it was the right thing to do for the people who needed it the most; a hand up, not a hand out. That spirit became ingrained in me; I witnessed first hand the positive ripple effect that came with giving people a second chance and helping them to help themselves. Back in 1914, my great grandfather and uncles weren’t thinking about what I would be doing in 2019, but they taught me how I can help and touch others lives in the way that I was touched, it just makes things better for everyone and the environment at the same time.


For those who benefit from the workforce development program you offer, are there any perquisites or required experience?

Typically, the individuals who take part in the program have no experience, or almost no experience with work. It’s a matter of bringing them in and putting them next to someone who knows what’s going on and having them model how to do it correctly. It’s an on-the-job learning situation. For those that are interested, we help them find avenues towards additional education and certifications. Learning through doing can be better for some people who are new to the workforce; multiple opportunities for building self-confidence is critical. I believe that starting in the classroom may cause us to lose those who are weak in one learning modality.


How many people have benefited from workforce development through Suncatch?

In the District, I’d say about we’ve helped 12 individuals or returning citizens. In California, we worked with about 20 or 30. It’s all about bringing forward opportunities, regardless of whether they choose to make it a permanent career.   Maybe 10% stick with it, but if all you get is one person who makes that change then it’s worth it. With that one person, think how many lives can be changed. It’s that ripple of positive change I talked about earlier. Their improved life will hopefully help to improve the lives of those around them and so on and so forth.

If you look at the black community, traditionally you will see that trades are what held everything our community together. Masons, roofers, carpenters, etc. When there wasn’t money in the South, we went to where there was work—North or West to California, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. Times have changed, and now we’ve gotten to the point where some parents may not want their kids to work as hard as they did. College isn’t for everyone though, nor does it have to be. If you are willing to learn, work hard and have a good worth ethic, you can learn this trade and be successful. You have to get out where the money is, and solar has that opportunity. There is a shortage of trades people nationwide, and people don’t care who you are if you can do the work. That has been my experience, and the experiences of people of color that I know that work in the trade. Starting anything new can be intimidating and uncomfortable, but we have to deal with a little discomfort to move ahead and succeed.  


How do we showcase the career opportunities that are available to younger generations in our community and get them engaged?

I think it would be helpful to have a trade program in a high school that introduced students to the various aspects of solar and the technical skills involved. Direct exposure is the best way to advocate for opportunities and positions. Even if they don’t pursue it, they are exposed to what’s out there in the industry. You have to see what possibilities are in order to imagine yourself taking advantage of it. Maybe you start at $15 an hour, but four years later you could be making $35-$40 an hour if you take full advantage of the opportunity. You must take advantage of the opportunities before you, even if it takes time to gradually get there, time well spent. It can be hard to deal with financial and social pressures of our society, but it’s about working hard now in order to create a positive future.


Groundswell is celebrating your positive contributions to both our community and our planet as part of Black Green History month. What part of your work in giving back to the community resonates the most with you?

It would be the whole notion of reintroducing minorities or the African American community to trades. We have had great success in this arena in our recent past, and it makes me think back to my experience with my grandfather, who was from New Orleans and went to Tuskegee Institute to attend their technical training program. Booker T. Washington was the first president of Tuskegee Institute, which started as a technical trade school. I remember his notion was that coming out of slavery, the best thing that blacks could be given were technical trade jobs. Something the masses could do and be accepted as doing. You look at that experience, how those opportunities have grown and improved over time, and it’s still alive through me and in what I’m doing. That is a big part of why I am doing what I do and why it’s important for me to give back and keep that energy alive for future generations.

Black Green History: Growing Opportunities from Within Kristina Overton
Black Green History: Making History with Mohawk ]]> A building in and of itself is not anything but a building. The value of a sustainable building is that it educates the people in the building who then go and begin to pollinate that message of responsibility in their own communities and homes. That’s when you have a significant impact above and beyond what the building can provide.

My grandmother introduced me to the concept of sustainability early in life. Of course, in my grandmother’s house back in Alabama, we never had a “sustainability” conversation; we talked about never wasting a thing. She never threw anything away. She taught us how to recycle tin cans into toys and to make wastebaskets from the plastic rings we found on six packs of soda.

I learned my values and morals about sustainability from my grandmother. The lessons she gave me—about being responsible, thinking about people downstream and not throwing things away—have stayed with me. She would love that I now work for a company that recycles more than 6 billion plastic bottles a year to create beautiful residential and commercial flooring.

Although I received my bachelor’s degree in English from Morehouse College, I continued to have environmentalism on my mind. I minored in Environmental Business Management at Morehouse and pursued sustainability training at the University of Texas–Houston. I went after LEED Accredited Professional certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and in 2018 was fortunate to receive the USGBC Leadership Award.

Who thought all of this was possible? When I began, the field of sustainability was just emerging in schools, in industry, in the market. I was one of the few people of color working in this space. Each conference and training I attended was carpeted mainly with middle-aged white men and women.

I started as the sustainability officer at the University of Texas–Houston and worked my way to being the chief sustainability officer for the largest flooring manufacturer in the world. Now, everywhere I go and every group I talk to, I am the face of sustainability for Mohawk.

With our believe in better approach to business, Mohawk demonstrates each pillar of sustainability in a way that acknowledges the importance of all people and their connectivity to our journey toward a sustainable future. We maximize the use of our resources, technologies and innovative thinking to realize a tangible ROI for Mother Nature.

Recognizing the accomplishments of African Americans within the green space is important because sustainability of our planet requires inclusion. We need everyone—all their ideas, passion and commitment to move forward on this collective journey toward a better future. If we truly desire to have an impact on our sustainable future, we need all races and cultures to engage and align traditional values with innovation. Highlighting diverse accomplishments will empower others to join us on this journey.

And Mohawk is redefining this journey. We look at the footprint of a product—what it takes to make a product (water, energy, resources) and then consider ways to offset these consumptions. We ask each and every day: How can we turn our footprint into a positive handprint? And that has led us to reach out a hand to make communities more sustainable.

We are offsetting the amount of water used in the manufacturing of our Living Products by working together with colleges to retrofit showers, which saves money for the college and water for the planet. At Morehouse College in Atlanta, we installed low-flow showerheads to save more water than is used to create our Lichen Collection, which became the first Living Product in floor covering. A similar plan to retrofit select dormitories at Hampton University in Virginia with low-flow water fixtures will create another environmental handprint in the case of our new Living Products, Nutopia and Nutopia Matrix.

We are partnering with Groundswell to install 10 SmartFlower solar technology energy systems to produce clean, renewable energy in schools with STEM programs and low-income communities. The SmartFlower initiative will produce and share more energy than is used to create our new Living Products while offering substantial energy savings to the families in these areas.

Our holistic approach to sustainability is making history. We are not just recycling old carpet or making sure that our products are free of toxins, although we still do both. We are touching lives and changing the way we do business.

My father used to say that no one ever discovered any amazing opportunity in a barrel inside a basement. Most of our greatest opportunities were discovered by going outside and connecting with nature. When we are in tune with nature, it inspires us to be creative at a much higher level.

Biophilic design, handprinting, sustainability—it is all about connecting with nature. Mohawk has made handprinting part of our corporate culture. And our customers are beginning to appreciate this. They are selecting to do business with us because we are taking a stand to really be connected to sustainable development goals and also to see those sustainable development goals manifest themselves into actions in the communities where we manufacture product.

Like my grandmother, nature wastes nothing. What an incredible sustainability challenge that is. I am proud of Mohawk because we have stepped up to this challenge and created our own pathway to delivering sustainable solutions to our marketplace.

Black Green History: Making History with Mohawk Kristina Overton
Black Green History:​ Increasing Diversity in the Solar Market ]]> In celebrating Black “Green” History month, our theme this year focuses on those “making” history within our green community. Terrell Richmond, the president and CEO of NYMBUS, has spent more than 20 years as an architect of economic advancement and inclusion programs, including in the energy sector. NYMBUS’ research is intended to shed light on participation trends within industries in order to identify where positive, inclusive change can be made. We caught up with Terrell to review his compelling findings and ideas on how to increase the opportunities for diverse participation in the Baltimore and D.C. solar industry and positively shape the future of woman and minority involvement. 

Boosting Minority Participation in Solar Development  

Groundswell recently partnered with NYMBUS, a minority-owned management consulting firm, to assess minority and woman-owned business participation in the solar sector in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. The results underscore both the growing opportunities in solar development and the urgent need for the industry to confront striking disparities in who benefits from them. 

On working with Groundswell.

I became familiar with Groundswell through [CEO] Michelle Moore, who had a hunch there was a missing picture in what was happening in the solar economy as it relates to small, minority and woman-owned businesses in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. 

The solar marketplace has experienced exponential growth on a global, national, and local scale, yet regardless of the trend we still found a gross lack of representation at every level of the solar supply chain. With such a vast space to create employment opportunities and wealth, we aspired to research the current solar economy with the intent of providing a visual depiction of its current status and the availability for future diversity. Baltimore and D.C. have unique opportunities to create shared assets, establish innovation centers and foster mentor relationships that ultimately create paths to prosperity for all members of every community.

On leaving minority and woman-owned businesses behind.

The findings in our research were pretty stark. Only 3 out of 1678 certified small businesses in D.C. were registered as minority or woman-owned full-service solar firms. That means women and minority solar firms make up less than one percent of certified small businesses.

In other words, they're not participating significantly within the solar value chain, and where they are participating, it's at the lower end as it relates to procurement and construction, as opposed to higher paying careers in development and finance. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics wages in the solar segment for  finance are, at minimum, three times higher than wages in solar engineering and procurement.

So wage disparity is one thing. The other consideration is that often the developer has the financial proficiency and the backing to not only build the project, but also own it. Developers that are also owners enjoy both the financial benefits from building the project and the long-term wealth generation that comes from owning the asset. The statistics reflect that very few minorities and women are involved at this level of the solar value chain in order to reap the more lucrative benefits of solar development.

On why early involvement in the solar economy matters.

Minority inclusion within solar is a problem throughout the country, and it’s largely because of the nascency of solar and because of the complexity of the value chain.  

The district just gave preliminary approval to a climate bill, requiring that 100 percent of the energy that is consumed has to come from a renewable source by 2032, so we know there's obviously an environmental impact. But there’s also an economic impact, and not just from an economic development perspective but from a consumption perspective. The cost of delivering solar is less than conventional energy. A lack of participation in solar development prohibits minorities from creating economic value within their own communities and owning an asset that can generate long-term wealth. 

It's sort of like the advent of information technology or the combustible engine. Renewable energy is transformative and is going to be in high demand, and legislative changes are further stimulating demand. 

To not have equal access at the outset can mean you're shut out forever. 

On the way forward.

To address our findings, we made several strategic recommendations. Accessing the data relevant to solar or small business participation is very difficult. There's a need to create a more centralized data source to reflect as well as to understand the trends in not just the solar economy of small minority communities but the business trends of solar in general. 

Other recommendations included: expanding awareness of the solar business model; forming a government and industry partner coalition to increase the participation of minority and woman-owned contractors and suppliers; increasing entrepreneurial capacity through mentorship; and exploring the launch of innovation centers to foster entrepreneurship and connect emerging minority and woman-owned businesses to business development opportunities associated with utility and university supply chains.

This is a complex space, and there's this interdependence between local legislation and policy as well as access to capital and financing to capitalize on solar opportunities. It's a very nascent market, and it is complex, with legislative and financial nuance. There are numerous companies that have the capacity, but don't have the awareness. By engaging with local governments, community leaders and industry professionals, we can collectively take necessary action to make sure growth in the solar industry demonstrates increased equity and inclusion.


Black Green History:​ Increasing Diversity in the Solar Market Kristina Overton
Report: Solar Empowers​...Some ]]> A new report by NYMBUS Holdings, commissioned by Groundswell, highlights immediate and measurable steps to close the diversity gap in Washington DC’s solar marketplace to address the underrepresentation of minority and women-owned businesses at every level of the solar supply chain. Prompted by Groundswell’s first-hand experiences in the local solar market, and enabled by Groundswell’s participation as a Citi Foundation Community Progress Maker in Washington DC, the objective of the report is to:

  1. To describe the current levels of minority and woman-owned business participation in the solar sector in the Baltimore, MD and District of Columbia solar markets, and frame the near-term opportunities; and,
  2. To provide recommendations for closing the diversity gap

Solar Empowers...Some

The State of Diversity and Inclusion in the Solar Sector In Washington, DC And Baltimore, MD


The solar marketplace has experienced exponential growth on a global, national, and local scale. Nationally, 4 out of 10 electricity generation jobs were solar jobs in 2017 – more new jobs than any other segment of energy industry. [1]

Solar energy’s sustained growth has impacted local economies. In both the District of Columbia and Baltimore, solar developers, financiers, and solar engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firms are shaping a market that is rich with innovation and profitability. In the District alone, solar capacity grew from a negligible base in 2009 to 62MW by the end of 2018, representing an investment of about $160 million to date. [2] DC’s solar capacity is expected to increase to 164MW by 2023. Based on expected installation costs and capacity projects, the period 2018-2023 could see an additional $300 million in solar investments in DC. [3]

While the City of Baltimore’s solar capacity is less robust than DC’s, the State of Maryland’s solar market, already more than 1 GW in Q3, 2018 [4], is projected to grow by 974 MW by 2023, according to the Maryland-DC-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDVSEIA), representing an estimated $ 2.4 billion in solar infrastructure [5]. That’s an estimated $2.73B in projected new solar infrastructure – which is great news for local solar companies.

Critically, however, minority and woman-owned businesses are grossly underrepresented at every level of the solar supply chain. As a result, the solar industry and its wealth-building economic expansion in the District of Columbia and in Baltimore is not fulfilling its potential to drive equitable economic development. In fact, the level of diversity in the local solar value chain is sparse even compared to solar industry diversity in other states and to the under representation of minority and woman-owned businesses in other sectors. [6]



[1] 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative, May 2018 (release Feb. 4, 2018); p. 38 

[2] Wood Mackenzie, Limited/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight®, Solar Energy Industry Association with GTM Research (now known as Wood Mackenzie). District of Columbia-specific data is cited from the Solar Energy Industry Association state policy. Data from this report is current through Q3, 2018.

[3] Ibid., Full report, p. 9

[4] Solar Energy Industries Association, state profiles, Maryland

[5] MDVSEIA, as drawn from Solar Energy Industries Association, National Solar Database, data downloaded 11/14/2018

[6] 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study, The Solar Foundation. Appendix, p.38

Report: Solar Empowers​...Some Sat, 12 Jun 3660 15:49:59 -0600 Kristina Overton
Coach Dave's Playbook: January 2019 ]]> It’s a new year, and we’re already off and running with advances and updates in the world of clean energy…so let’s dive right in.


DC’s Clean Energy Bill Is Now Law

On January 18, D.C,’s Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 into law. It requires 100% of DC’s electricity to come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2032—13 years earlier than California and Hawaii have committed to transition to 100% green electricity. For more details, check out this helpful write-up from Greater Greater Washington. This bill recognizes that action on climate is not complete if the benefits are not shared equitably among our residents, and that we need a more sustainable future for the next generation of D.C. to thrive.[1]


Update from the Garden State: Low-Income Community Solar Takes Root in New Jersey

In January 2019, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) approved rules for a new community solar pilot program, which clears the way for at least 225 megawatts (MW) of community solar to be built in the state over the next three years (enough to power approximately 25,000 homes). The program is also expected to create local clean energy jobs and help the state meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.[2]

Within the community solar pilot program, 40% of all solar capacity is earmarked for low- and moderate-income consumers.

A 2018 study from GTM Research found that community solar has the potential to deliver energy savings for more than 400,000 customers in New Jersey, including a quarter million low-to-moderate income and affordable housing customers, by 2030.[3] The state had more than 100,000 total solar panel installations by the end of 2018, but encouraging broader access to solar power is key to Governor Murphy's stated goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.[4]


New York Launches “Solar For All” Program

In early December 2018, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced contract awards for nine community solar projects throughout New York, as part of its “Solar For All” program. These first nine projects, which are intended to provide community solar access for up to 7,000 eligible low-income residents, will be followed by additional round of funding in 2019, which will then expand the number of households to 10,000, as well as increase the areas served by the program.

This recent boost to low income solar in New York state is part of Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun program, a 10-year, $1 billion component of Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which aims to create a cleaner, more resilient, and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers.[5] More info here:


Things Are Looking Up For Solar Jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing occupation in the US is solar PV installer, with a projected growth rate of 105% between 2016 and 2026. The #2 fastest-growing job? Wind turbine service technician. Yep, both jobs are in the booming renewable energy industry.[6]


Bonus Reading: Equitable and Inclusive Urban Planning

A fascinating look at how the city of Minneapolis is grappling with issues of race, income, renewable energy, and urban planning


Coach Dave's Playbook: January 2019 Kristina Overton
Turning “Them” Into “We”: Creating Clean Energy Solutions Together“them”-into-“we”-creating-clean-energy-solutions-together/ ]]> Clean energy is a complex field filled with endless twists and turns — from local policy and technical challenges all the way down to the varying interpretations of “clean energy” as a concept. For those that are new to it (like I am), this industry can be a challenging one to navigate.

At Groundswell, I work with a team to manage community solar projects and partnerships. We partner with electric utilities, community partners, lawmakers, and neighbors to make equitable clean energy access a reality. Over the summer, I became increasingly interested in figuring out how our work fits within the industry and what the future of clean energy might look like in coming years. However, doing this myself was challenging. So, I started looking for a group that wanted to build knowledge together.

Enter CELI, the Clean Energy Leadership Institute. For the last three months, I’ve been attending a weekly seminar through the CELI Fellowship, which is available for young professionals in D.C. and San Francisco. Covering a wide swath of topics from regulation and advocacy to the future of our planet, the seminars invite questions and discussion that add rich context to our work in clean energy.

Here are three of the most important things I’ve grown to understand through the fellowship:

We have to modernize our grid.

Our energy grid is OLD, and its management is complicated. In the U.S., many of the poles, wires, and other equipment that comprise our energy transmission and distribution network are nearing 50 years old. As equipment wears down, it is a challenge to plan for and manage upgrades, especially as energy demand continues to increase across the nation. This may sound like an issue that’s removed from our daily lives, but we all rely on consistent energy access. When it’s not available—for example, power outages during a thunderstorm—we all feel it.

The role of utilities is in flux.

Decentralizing energy generation is a huge point of contention. One element of the debate is the changing role of electric utilities, which manage the country’s electric grids and have long provided a public service: consistent and reliable access to electricity. Historically, containing power plants, transmission and distribution systems, and end users all within the same network allowed the utility to manage processes in an organized, centralized fashion. This system made sense when electricity primarily came from oil and gas sources, which are generally processed at large power plants. Communities also used less energy and were far less complex.

Now that energy sources are more diverse and we have greater, more varied energy needs, utilities are dealing with complicated challenges. For example, solar energy systems can be installed on homes and businesses, allowing consumers to reduce reliance on traditional sources of energy and take more control of energy prices. Because of this, public utilities are now competing with these private sources of energy generation, also called distributed generation. And yet, distributed generation systems still connect back to the publicly-owned grid in some cities, creating major questions: what is the present-day responsibility of utilities to provide the public service of reliable electricity? And should they remain centralized, handling all elements of the energy grid, or change their model?

People matter.

Connectedness matters: turn “them” into “we.” Building relationships can transform industries and constituents into communities. CELI has provided a valuable pathway to building community with young professionals in my industry, whether through discussing the future of electricity or sitting around playing 80’s hits on the guitar. The CELI fellowship has been an opportunity to understand various angles of the clean energy industry as well as to connect with the intelligent, driven, and vibrant people that push it forward.


Intentionally building community can often redirect solutions from being prescriptive towards being supportive and adaptive. As I’ve learned about various sides of the energy industry at CELI, the value of working at an organization like Groundswell has continued to reveal itself. When our team designs a project, we work in partnership with neighbors and community leaders on clean energy solutions that will benefit people for years to come. This may be more work than installing a prescriptive system, but its worth is proven tenfold: leveraging our power together is one of the keys to creative, lasting transformation. Our team synthesizes the regulatory, political, financial, and technical sides of the energy equation in order to serve our communities across the country, and the direct relationships we cultivate enable us to always keep this goal in sight. 

Turning “Them” Into “We”: Creating Clean Energy Solutions Together Mon, 12 Jun 3950 15:45:41 -0600“them”-into-“we”-creating-clean-energy-solutions-together/ John Goldring
Exciting Updates on Energy Efficiency Efforts and More in Georgia ]]> Exciting Updates on Energy Efficiency Efforts and More in Georgia


Groundswell’s work is ever-expanding into areas of opportunity including the Southeast and, more specifically, Georgia. Sixteen percent of Georgians fall below the federal poverty line compared to the national average of 12.7%. Those statistics, combined with the region’s extreme weather conditions (hot, humid summers + freezing winters) and inefficient, aging homes mean low-income Georgians pay seven times more of their income toward electricity than higher earners. Finding innovative, financially sustainable programs that address these issues and create jobs has been a key area of focus for Groundswell in Georgia.


Going big sometimes means starting small. That is why as Groundswell’s Southeastern Community Engagement Lead based in LaGrange, GA, I am focusing my efforts locally and throughout Georgia to explore the challenges and opportunities that exist around energy efficiency, community solar and sustainable growth. Doing so takes a multifaceted approach, so we are working closely with the local utility, elected officials, community leaders and residents to listen, familiarize ourselves with the landscape and work together to find solutions that address the needs. Groundswell is also looking at these same issues on a statewide level as a member of the Energy Efficiency For All (EFFA) Georgia Coalition. EEFA Georgia explores strategies that make multi-family and single-family homes healthy and affordable through energy efficiency.


The Pay As You Save (PAYS) program is one solution that is currently under consideration by the City of LaGrange to help those in our community who struggle with the highest energy bills and improve the efficiency of the older homes they likely live in. The PAYS program is a non-subsidized, financially sustainable energy efficiency upgrade program that serves low-income customers regardless of credit score or whether they rent or own their home. We applaud the City of LaGrange’s leadership for taking the initial steps necessary to address the very large issue of energy efficiency and quality of life by approving (unanimously, I might add) to fund Phase I development of a local PAYS program. Partnering to design a successful PAYS program for LaGrange is Southface, a leader in sustainable strategies and technical expertise throughout the Southeast.


In the small, rural towns of Ouachita, AR and Roanoke, NC, both the utility and customers are enjoying the benefits from a successful PAYS program implementation. In these cities, a customer enrolls in the PAYS program through their local utility and an energy audit for the home is scheduled. Once the audit is complete and the efficiency improvements identified (weather stripping, HVAC, insulation, caulking, low-flow toilets, LED bulbs, etc.), the improvements are made, and paid for, by the utility. The savings are immediate and the utility recovers the cost of the improvements by sharing in the savings with the customer. In Ouachita AR, customers on average experienced a more than 20% reduction in energy use resulting in lower energy bills from the very beginning. Not only does the PAYS program help customers reduce their utility bills and put money back in their pocket, it can also impact their quality of life by improving indoor air quality and thermal comfort, especially for the very young and elderly.


Energy efficiency programs like PAYS can also be an economic driver that positively impacts local economies as they help to create skilled jobs and opportunity. However, communities need to have a local workforce that is prepared to perform these jobs which is why as a board member of thINC Academy, our local high school college and career academy, and in conjunction with West Georgia Technical College, we are partnering to explore the curriculum and training skills necessary to prepare and train our future workforce. 


Partnerships are the key to many of Groundswell’s successful endeavors. Michelle Moore, Groundswell’s CEO, may have said it best, “We believe that partnership is leadership, and that working with local values-aligned organizations with complimentary skills is always a better decision that reinventing the wheel or going it alone.” In LaGrange, Groundswell is truly blessed to partner with the Ray, a nonprofit that was created by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. The Ray is dedicated to reimagining and revolutionizing an18-mile stretch of highway and the surrounding acres in order to transform the transportation infrastructure of the future and serve as a global model for change. From right-of-way solar arrays to solar-paved highways to highway shoulder bioswales and more, The Ray is creating a first-of-its-kind regenerative highway ecosystem.


LaGrange is a small town with a big heart and, like Groundswell, understands that the foundation of every thriving community is its ability to “love thy neighbor as yourself.” LaGrange is also a “City Inspired” that has a deep sense of community, a long history of public/private partnerships that invest in the success of the city, and it is open to innovative approaches to tackling big issues. LaGrange cares about those in their community that struggle and is committed to finding ways to improve affordability, quality of life and economic development. The good news is our work will not stop in LaGrange. Groundswell understands the opportunity and positive impact that connecting the dots between energy efficiency, community solar and sustainable growth can make on local economies and the health of the overall community. Which is why we are especially energized and excited to expand our efforts throughout the Southeast in the months and years to come.

Exciting Updates on Energy Efficiency Efforts and More in Georgia John Goldring
A 100% Renewable Energy Standard for DC and Energy Efficiency for All ]]> On December 18, DC’s City Council will take its final vote on the DC Clean Energy Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018. Among its many notable provisions are to adopt a 100% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for the District of Columbia by 2032 – doubling the District’s renewable energy goals. That means that all of the energy used in the District of Columbia will come from renewable sources within the next 15 years. With this commitment, DC will join two states (Hawaii and California) and more than 90 cities and counties across the United States who’ve stated unequivocally that they want their community to be powered by clean, renewable energy. Renewable energy is abundant, resilient, and local – and we’re grateful for the DC City Council’s leadership.


Importantly, and thanks to the leadership of Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie who is Chair of the Committed on Business and Economic Development, the legislation also clarifies that Pepco and Washington Gas are authorized to offer energy efficiency programs to customers, including low and moderate-income members of our community.


Why is this so important? In DC as in most every city in our nation, the poorest families pay the most for electricity because their homes and apartments are older and less efficient. As any of us who’ve lived week to week know from experience, you don’t buy a new Energy Star refrigerator or a high-efficiency air conditioner because it’s better and less costly to operate than the old one – you keep stuff until it breaks and you don’t have a choice but to replace it.


Back in 2016, Groundswell took a deeper dive into energy and economic equity and found that 1 in 14 of our DC neighbors struggling with poverty were paying $200 per month or more for electricity – vastly more than their affluent neighbors who could afford the comfort of an energy efficient home. That’s grocery money, rent money, school supply money, money for doctor’s visits and medicine. And that’s the kind of utility bill that undermines your financial security and quality of life.


Making sure that DC’s utility companies – Pepco and Washington Gas – are part of bringing the benefits of energy efficiency to all Washingtonians is an important step forward. And it’s a step that many other states have already made. Some states require that utilities meet a minimum percentage of electricity demand with energy efficiency, while others set specific performance targets. In each case, setting goals and measuring performance not only holds the utility accountable for making a positive impact, it also enables policy makers to make certain that programs offered by public utilities are equitably benefiting the public.


If you can find a few minutes and you live or work in Washington DC, I’d encourage you to make time to say “thank you” to the DC City Council for not only making sure that the District is moving forward with other leading states by setting a 100% renewable portfolio standard, but also for making certain that our local utilities come to the table as partners in delivering energy efficiency for all.

A 100% Renewable Energy Standard for DC and Energy Efficiency for All Wed, 12 Jun 8120 15:44:47 -0600 Joanne Schwarz
Coach Dave’s Playbook: November 2018’s-playbook-november-2018/ ]]> The new year is arriving quickly, and with it comes new updates and developments in the solar industry. This month’s blog is dedicated to sharing some of the recent policy changes and exciting innovations that we are seeing in the District and across the globe.


Updates from the District


  • Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018: The DC City Council voted on November 28th to advance a bill that would set a 100% renewable energy mandate by 2032. The D.C. bill would also go beyond the electricity sector, mandating that all public transportation and fleet vehicles be electric or another zero-emission technology by 2045.[1] Here’s a link to the latest version of the 24-page bill itself. The Clean Energy Act is slated for a second and final vote on December 18th.


  • DC’s grid modernization initiative: Pepco’s application to the District of Columbia Public Service Commission (DC PSC) for its Capital Grid project includes upgrading three existing substations and building a new substation in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood. Some environmentalists and residents have pushed back on the project, arguing there is a more sustainable approach to updating the grid. On a separate track, the DC PSC is engaged in a process to modernize the District’s grid. The goal of the process, Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability (MEDSIS), is to increase sustainability for consumers and make the energy delivery system more reliable, efficient, cost effective and interactive.[2] It will be interesting to watch this play out, as this initiative will shape the electrical grid of the future!


Interesting solar design applications


Creative solar power designs are emerging around the globe.


  • Agrovoltaics: You’ve heard of “photovoltaic,” but what about “agrovoltaic?” Agrovoltaics (sometimes spelled “agrivoltaic”) involves co-developing the same area of land for both solar photovoltaic power as well as for conventional agriculture.[3] A new program in Massachusetts incentivizes such agrovoltaic designs, to avoid clearing farms and forests for solar power generation. One such design in the state—a 30-acre solar farm system—is located 8 to 10 feet above the ground.[4] It likely resembles this system, which is located in Chile.


One of the world’s largest agrovolatic systems is built in China by Huawei. The 1-gigawatt system utilizes trackers and module level electronics.

Emerging research suggests that the combination of solar and agriculture, while lowering the output of either land use compared to a “pure” installation, can increase combined agricultural and electricity output by more than 150 percent.

  • Floating solar power: A company called Ciel & Terre has completed a 250 kW-DC floating solar plant for a water district in Lake County, Northern California. The project uses 11 anchors to anchor the solar “island” to shore. The system is also designed to sit on the bottom of the pond if the pond drains. The project is one of four floating solar projects, totaling 5.3 MW, to be completed across the nation recently.[5] Here’s an image from a project in Florida that uses modular floats that readily snap and screw together.[6]


Case study: Massive nonprofit installation helps Portland’s homeless in a powerful way

  • Check out this cool story about how a Portland, OR, solar organization brought stakeholders together to help address homelessness and addiction recovery through a 100-kW solar project. More than a dozen regional companies sponsored this project by donating either products or labor.


Finally, for those looking for a little extra reading, I recommend this piece from the New Yorker: The Battle for Solar Energy in the Country’s Sunniest State.


That’s all for now. Until next month!

Coach Dave’s Playbook: November 2018 Mon, 12 Jun 7200 15:43:59 -0600’s-playbook-november-2018/ Joanne Schwarz