White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy visits New Columbia Solar project for National Clean Energy Week
After weeks of urging the rebuilding of the west U.S. in the wake of catastrophic wildfires, and while working to pass the transformative, bipartisan infrastructure bill, members of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy visited a community solar project in Washington, DC’s Ward 8 with local clean energy company New Columbia Solar.
“The climate crisis has a powerful way of bringing us together when we see those impacts,” said the Deputy Director of the White House Office on Domestic Climate Policy, Ali Zaidi, speaking of Hurricane Ida and the California wildfires. “And what’s so exciting is to see us come together around the solutions to that crisis. So yes, we have to come together and take on those wildfires and those storms and stand together as communities when we rebuild, but we’ve got to be in the business of coming together and building back better every single day in our communities.”
On September 18, the team joined the local clean energy company and affordable housing property owners to agree on a clean energy solution and bring a 374 kW solar array to a disadvantaged community in the District.
Joining the White House staff was New Columbia Solar CEO Mike Healy, DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Deputy Director Dr. Teresa Lawrence, DC Public Service Commissioner (DCPSC) Emile Thompson, Councilmember Anita Bonds, representatives of the DC Sustainable Energy Utility, the Montgomery Housing Partnership, and residents of Crescent Park Village. The effort started decades ago with the District’s longtime, concerted work to build a platform through public policy that would serve to support the development of hundreds of clean energy jobs and bring hundreds of millions in clean energy investment into the city.
The District’s Renewable Portfolio Standard Amendment Act of 2011, and subsequent amendments to the RPS in 2016 and 2018, have resulted in the rapid growth of DC’s solar market. By creating predictability with 10- to 20-year timelines and by setting ambitious clean energy targets, the policies provided the necessary market stability for solar companies to start and grow in DC. With more businesses entering the market, the renewable energy sources sold in the District has risen to 12%, more than 1,000 local jobs have been created, and a plethora of companies that have driven the District-based RPS capacity to increase from 3,898 renewable systems certified for RPS in 2015 to 11,700 in 2021.
As an example, one of the District’s largest commercial solar companies, New Columbia Solar, was founded in 2016 after the city’s clean energy policies made the local solar industry more stable and viable for decades at a time. The progressive policies provided Co-Founder and CEO Mike Healy with enough stability to feel comfortable starting a solar company focused on the unique challenges of the District’s solar energy market, including small roof spaces and historic infrastructure. New Columbia Solar is now ranked as one of the Washington Business Journal’s 2021 Fastest Growing Companies, has provided hundreds of jobs to local residents, and has developed the largest partner of the District’s Solar for All Program, which is intended to halve the electric bills of at least 100,000 of the District’s low-income households by 2032 through community solar projects.
As Mr. Healy explained, “I’m excited about the story of New Columbia Solar because there are so many other ‘New Columbia Solar’ companies across our country. What was unique to the District, though, and what will drive new and young solar businesses across the country is the policy security businesses need to plan, hire, and grow their capacity.” Mr. Healy went on to say, at a federal level, that also meets the federal government being able to provide long-term policy support through extending the solar investment tax credit (ITC). “With the ITC extension, companies like NCS can focus on building solar projects rather than having to decide every year whether we should send all our profits overseas in order to safe harbor solar equipment or hire more workers. A long-term ITC extension will help companies like NCS hire more workers much faster.”
While the White House Office on Domestic Climate Policy visited the community solar site, they met and learned from workers who participated in local training pathway programs, including some who credit solar energy for providing them with a career pathway that otherwise may not have been available to them.
“For me, growing up in DC, I’ve always felt the need to give back to my hometown,” said Cristian Blanco, Installer at New Columbia Solar. “Joining New Columbia Solar made it possible for me to do just that – the chance to do something positive for my community.”
By taking interest in a local community solar project, the White House staff was able to bring together clean energy professionals, residents of an affordable housing community, property owners, and local policymakers, who together could celebrate the positive results after years of local efforts. The actions these parties are taking today to pass long-term regulations, create good-paying jobs, register low-income families for community solar programs, and install new solar projects will undoubtedly lead to clean energy milestones and celebrations in the future.
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