A sun-powered Groundswell: DC residents can plug into solar and empower others, as well 

The nonprofit Groundswell offers 322 Washington Pepco customers a chance to switch to solar, while also helping an expected 66 low-income families get free clean energy


WASHINGTON — Hundreds of Pepco customers will get the chance to switch to solar energy, while also helping low-income Washington families plug into clean solar power. 

The nonprofit organization Groundswell, which works on shared solar initiatives that promote economic empowerment, is now managing enrollment for a community solar project being built by NHT Ingenuity Power and Solar Renewable Energy at the Rhode Island Row apartments in Brentwood.  Renters and homeowners throughout D.C. can apply at www.groundswell.org.

Community solar projects allow homeowners and renters alike a chance to plug into solar power without buying solar panels or having a place to put them. Instead, families buy subscriptions to a community solar array. Each month, they get a credit on their electricity bills for their share of the solar power produced. 

Groundswell is unique because of its Share Power™ program, which uses some of the money collected from subscribers to provide free clean power to low-income families. 

“Energy is a necessity. We’re all in this together, and we can’t afford to leave our neighbors in need behind,” said Michelle Moore, CEO of Groundswell.  “The maxim to ‘love thy neighbor as yourself’ is what drove us to create Share Power. It allows our neighbors to share in the benefits of reliable, clean, safe solar power, no matter their income,” Moore said.

Community solar is on the rise as cities and towns across the nation seek ways to expand access to solar energy, including for low-to-moderate-income customers and others who can’t install traditional rooftop solar panels because they rent, live in multi-tenant buildings, have roofs that can’t host a solar-power system, or don’t have the money to invest in solar panels.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 40 states have at least one community-solar project online, and 1,523 megawatts of community solar have been installed through 2018. That’s enough to power over 289,000 homes. SEIA expects community solar capacity to more than double over the next 5 years. 

Moore says that as the cost of solar equipment continues to drop, community solar expansion can’t happen fast enough. 

“We cannot afford the social cost of leaving economically challenged communities behind. The people who can least afford it are paying the biggest electricity bills,” Moore said. 

Affordable housing organizations are embracing community solar as a way to keep household monthly bills in check. 

“Solar energy and housing affordability go hand in hand,” said Bracken Hendricks, CEO of Urban Ingenuity, a clean energy finance company that partnered with the nonprofit National Housing Trust to develop the Rhode Island Row community solar project. “Washington, D.C. is a national leader in clean energy and climate solutions. This innovative project demonstrates that a greener city can also be a more accessible and inclusive community for all families living in the District,” Hendricks said. 

The Rhode Island Row community solar project is being installed in a mixed-use development owned by Urban Atlantic. But you don’t have to live in the neighborhood to sign up for solar power. Almost any residential Pepco customer living in the District of Columbia is eligible.  

Subscribers pay $48.71 for a three-kilowatt subscription, which is comparable to Pepco’s rate for fossil-fuel-generated electricity. Part of that payment is redirected to help buy solar power for low-income families, and these “Empowered” customers will save almost $500 a year on electricity bills. That leaves them more money for other essentials, from groceries to school supplies to healthcare costs. 

About Groundswell

Groundswell is a 501c3 nonprofit that builds people-centered solar projects that deliver energy equity and economic opportunity. 

About NHT Ingenuity Power

NHT Ingenuity Power is jointly owned by the National Housing Trust (NHT) and Urban Ingenuity (UI), with the mission of bringing affordable solar to multifamily properties.

About Urban Ingenuity

Urban Ingenuity is a clean energy finance company that serves as a developer and financier of clean energy infrastructure at both the building and community scale and as administrator of innovative energy finance programs. 

About National Housing Trust (NHT)

National Housing Trust (NHT) protects, improves and maintains existing affordable multifamily housing so that low-income families can live in quality neighborhoods with access to opportunity. 

About Solar Renewable Energy (SRE)

Solar Renewable Energy is focused on harnessing the power of the sun as a clean, renewable energy source through delivery of innovative financing, development, construction and operating solutions.

About Urban Atlantic

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Urban Atlantic is a real estate development and investment company specializing in smart solutions for urban development.