Congregants of Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church can now leave their cars under the shade of a huge solar panel installation over their parking lot. The installation went online in early June and will lower energy bills for more than 70 District households, according to D.C.-based clean energy nonprofit Groundswell.
“This project started out as a selfish endeavor, meaning that we wanted to have solar for ourselves,” the church’s pastor, Juan Guthrie, said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 16. “And then we met Pamela Nelson [of the Office of the People’s Counsel], and she helped us expand our ministry and our mission beyond ourselves: to our community, to our neighbors, to our friends, and even strangers. And here we are — what a blessing.”
The Office of the People’s Counsel, where Nelson does outreach to utility consumers around energy efficiency and clean energy projects, served as the link between Sargent and the Department of Energy and Environment’s Solar for All program. Income-qualifying households in the District can sign up for the program and receive savings on their energy bills from the energy produced by community solar facilities. Crucially, Solar for All subscribers can rent or live in multi-family buildings — the program allows people to benefit from cheaper solar power without having to install panels on their own roof.
“Energy equity is critical if our communities are to survive,” People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye said. “Not every consumer has a house or the resources that will allow them to maximize their energy independence. Programs that aggregate energy resources can provide benefits to a lot more consumers.”
Sargent’s 222 kWdc community solar array will save the church money while also providing up to $500 in energy savings to 73 local, income-qualified households, according to Groundswell, who received a Solar for All grant and spearheaded the project at Sargent. Several organizations focused on financing green energy projects also partnered with the church, including SunLight General Capital and Working Power.
SunCatch Energy, a Maryland-based, Black-owned engineering and construction firm, built the solar array. Bradford Boston, the company’s founder and the fourth generation of electrical engineers in his family, said working on the project felt “like going to my grandparents’ home on Sundays — when I show up here, it’s like showing up for family.”
“It’s just so great to be a part of this project, with Groundswell, the Sargent family, Reverend Guthrie,” Boston said. “It’s so many pieces and it wouldn’t be possible without all of us. We come from so many directions and so many places. And we come together and we make good things happen.”