Nearly 100 solar supporters from around the District joined together on Saturday, April 14 for the 5th annual D.C. Solar Congress at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. The free event brought together longtime solar advocates, solar homeowners, and newcomers just finding out about solar in the District for a full day of learning, sharing, and discussion about the present and future of solar power in D.C.
Solar United Neighbors of D.C. Program Director Yesenia Rivera kicked things off with opening remarks that set the table for the day to come. And what a day it was—jam packed with a program covering everything from the basics of solar energy technology; to more advanced technical subjects like battery storage and the benefits of combining solar with electric vehicles; to deep dives into innovative solar policy programs designed to expand solar access to low-income residents and how to modernize our energy distribution grid for the 21st Century.
The first session of the day featured a wide-ranging panel discussion focused on solar energy, equity, and health. Speakers Denise Fairchild from Emerald Cities Collaborative, Edward Yim from the DC Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE), Yinka N. Bode-George from the Maryland Environmental Health Network, and Ron Bethea from the Positive Change Purchasing Co-op, framed solar energy as a source of diverse community benefits. The group discussed economic growth from good jobs and improved public health for communities that are most impacted by our current reliance on dirty, polluting fuel sources. In her discussion of energy democracy, Denise Fairchild took the conversation a step further by pointing to our materialistic consumer culture and the need to reevaluate our mass production and consumption if we are to create a world that is both sustainable and just.
The day’s second session included a more focused presentation on the District’s innovative Solar for All program from DOEE’s Nora Hawkins. Solar for All seeks to provide the benefits of solar electricity to 100,000 low-income households and reduce their energy bills by 50% by 2032. The program, which was established by the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Expansion Amendment Act of 2016, is funded by the Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF). The 51st State Solar Co-op, currently open to all District residents no matter their neighborhood or income-level, includes Solar for All grant funding for eligible income-qualified participants. Jacqueline Brown, a 51st State Solar Co-op participant and Solar for All grant recipient, joined the session to discuss her reasons for going solar and describe her experience navigating Solar for All qualification process.
After lunch, which featured brown bag discussions about electric vehicles, the afternoon session got deep into the weeds for the policy wonks. Modernizing our electric grid is an essential component to building a clean and democratic energy system with solar as the cornerstone. The GRID 2.0 Working Group’s Larry Martin moderated a fascinating panel of presentations and discussion with DOEE’s Edward Yim, Jorge Camacho from the Coalition for a Resilient DC, and Rob Stewart from Pepco Holdings. The group provided different perspectives on the path forward for building the 21st Century electric grid we need in D.C.
The day came to a close with an open plenary where D.C. Solar Congress participants could synthesize all the information from the day and discuss openly what they learned and how they hope the solar community in our city will continue to advance.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for this exciting event, and thank you to our hosts at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. Our 5th D.C. Solar Congress was a great success—and we already can’t wait for the 6th!