As a new student joining the Empowerhouse project, I am excited by the opportunity to help this house truly live up to its name: ‘Empower’. We are working to empower not only the soon-to-be residents of the house as self-reliant homeowners, but also to empower their neighbors to receive the economic and environmental benefits of solar power as well.
Today I had the chance to sit down with Anya, Rob, and Cheryl of the Mt Pleasant Solar Cooperative to discuss how we could support the formation of a solar co-op in Ward 7. The concept of a solar cooperative is simple: neighbors joining together to collectively figure out the most affordable and effective way to go solar. In a solar co-op, neighbors support each other in navigating the financial incentives and choosing the best installers. The Mt Pleasant Solar Cooperative now has over 350 solar-powered members, and has ignited a network of solar cooperatives across the city under the coalition DC Sun.
Sitting in Anya’s sunny kitchen with a view of several of her neighbors solar-paneled roofs, we discussed how we could spread this model to Ward 7. It seems that their success lies not in that they have a singular model, but that they have made themselves experts of the practicalities of solar installations and are dedicated to walking interested parties through the process.
There are a number of innovative possibilities for making solar financially accessible. Several homes in Deanwood have already taken advantage of one such possibility by leasing solar panels on their rooftops through Solar City. These residents had panels installed on their roofs for no down payment, and pay Solar City on a monthly basis for their electricity from the panels at a lower rate than is charged by utilities. Further, a couple multifamily buildings in the neighborhood have leased solar hot water heaters in a similar model through Skyline Innovations. Anya, Robert, and Cheryl are also excited about working with some of the sponsors of energy assistance programs to pay for solar installations on their client’s homes, which would provide them with energy security, rather with a subsidy to pay for dirty energy for countless years into the future.
I am committed to making Empowerhouse a catalyst for residents of Ward 7 to claim these opportunities to have healthy and secure home energy systems. The Solar Decathlon competition is only the beginning of the house’s ability to inspire, encourage, and — yes — empower.