A Year of Revelation: Let the Light In!

Twenty-twenty has been a year of revelation. Whatever polite veneers may have once masked the injustice, fear, rage, want, and inequities that have been daily on display, those veils have been ripped away by a relentless year.

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” as Judge Louis Brandeis notably said, so as we look ahead to 2021 and consider how to heal what ails us, we say LET THE LIGHT IN!

“Systems produce outcomes according to the values on which they’re founded.”

Throughout this challenging year, we pressed into our mission – finding new ways to connect, serve, and support one another so we could continue to get good things done. Here’s how we’re leading with light:

A New Strategic Plan

Through a sustained effort that included 100% of our staff team and Board of Directors, Groundswell adopted a new Strategic Plan which identifies three strategic goals:

  • Be our best at serving low- and moderate-income people and communities. This goal means prioritizing people and communities who have been historically left out, left behind, and marginalized through systemic racism and other exclusionary practices. To Groundswell, people who have been last come first.
  • Building on our community solar expertise, offer expanded clean energy programs that reduce household energy burdens. This goal means, through Groundswell and with partners, we will be developing energy storage, efficiency, and other solutions that serve customers with lower bills.
  • Connect the supply chains of all Groundswell projects and programs to equitable community development. This goal means we will prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our operations and will work with our suppliers and partners to include job training, local hiring, and workforce mobility everywhere we work.

One of our Strategic Plan commitments is to make data science a foundational part of how we work and what we do, so we look forward to keeping score and sharing our progress with you all as we move forward.

Community Power

Chief Program Officer Lenwood Coleman and his team, including Director David Wright and new team member Nicole Sonderegger, are leading community solar projects and clean energy programs that reduce household energy burdens across six states and counting. While things moved a little more slowly this year, Groundswell was blessed to advance many new solar projects, including Paddington Square in Maryland, the Zakat Foundation in Hillcrest, IL, ARK Refuge Ministries in LaGrange, GA, and a new SmartFlower at Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, MD. We’ve got a whole lot of groundbreakings in the making for 2021 with gratitude to the team’s faithfulness and constant care for the people and places we serve.

Long Term Relationships

Groundswell’s commitment doesn’t end when the last solar panel is installed. We’re in it for the long term. That’s why our team worked with Dupont Park SDA Church and a team of local partner organizations to complete a tree planting that will improve local water quality while also reducing the stormwater fees on the church’s water bill.

Resilience: Breaking Barriers

Lenwood and his team are also leading pioneering resilience projects with solar+storage+microgrids in Baltimore with the City of Baltimore and in Atlanta in collaboration with Spelman College, the Atlanta University Center, and Partnership for Southern Equity. How to build resilience varies from state to state depending on the local utility and regulatory environment, and our team is grateful to be at the forefront — developing approaches that put community priorities at the center of the equation.

Sharing Power with more than 3500 Households

With appreciation for the leadership of Groundswell CFO Emily Robichaux and Director Kristal Virgil and their teams – including Customer Engagement & Support Associate Sam Schact and Operations & Customer Support Associate Sydney Pegues –  Groundswell is grateful to serve our neighbors with clean power through community solar, including working with DC DOEE to provide customer support and engagement to DC Solar For All subscribers. Aggregate annual electricity bill savings for income-qualified subscribers exceeds $1.5 million. Next year, we’ll be expanding service and support to neighbors in Maryland, New York, and Illinois.

Pioneering Research: Identifying the Most Inclusive Solar Finance Models

Led by Program Director Chris Nichols in close collaboration with Dr. Elvis Moleka, Groundswell’s new Director of Data Science and Research, our team is knee-deep in collecting project finance model and customer experience data that will help us to identify the most effective project finance approaches to accelerating solar access for our low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighbors. With project team members including Elevate, Clean Energy Works, and Southface, we’re looking at innovative approaches from across the US in a variety of different regulatory markets so that our results can provide guidance and inspiration regardless of where you may live. One of our most critical findings to date was just how few programs designed for LMI customers ask those customers how they did. We look forward to sharing data analysis, publications, and tools that will both challenge and support the energy sector to put customers at the center of what we all do.

Putting the Scale of Corporate Renewables to Work for Communities

Led by Program Director Lily Donge and chaired by Board Chair Kimberly Lewis, we’re working with the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) and The Solutions Project to develop procurement tools, inspirational case studies, and a thriving network that will connect the value and scale of corporate renewable energy purchases to the values and priorities of local communities. Our first step together is listening and learning. While it looks a bit different than the vibrant local events we all had envisioned prior to the pandemic, we’ll be launching a “Working Wisdom Listening Tour” in February 2021 in collaboration with The Hummingbird Firm so that our partners and leading companies can take their direction and queues from the frontline community leaders this program serves. Learn more and let us know if you’d like to present. Community-based leaders selected to present will receive an honorarium of $500 in recognition.

LaGrange has SOUL: Saving On Utilities Long term

Led by CPO Lenwood Coleman — working with Associate Editor Alicia Hill and Community Building Associate Teara Harris — we’re working with the City of LaGrange, GA, and EEtility to deploy $500,000 in-home energy retrofits for income-qualified residents through a “Pay As You Save (PAYS)” program that pays back up-front costs with long-term energy savings. The team’s work doesn’t end with energy efficiency, though. To understand and meet the community’s much broader need to improve housing, quality of life, and affordability for its residents, we’re partnering with other service-focused local community organizations, so we can all work together to serve our neighbors better by meeting a larger scope of needs. To further connect the retrofits’ value to local community values and priorities, we’re also partnering with a local Black woman-owned energy business and local contractors and tradespeople to keep the city’s investments local, supporting local businesses and jobs.

Energy Futures, Preparing for Power, and GROUNDTRUTH

This past year, as a way to connect and share ideas and joy during the pandemic, we launched a series of webinars and home concerts to engage, involve, and inspire people to imagine what an equitable clean energy future for their community could look like. We ourselves were inspired, and Groundswell will be launching a fresh take on our brand, website, and storytelling program that puts the people we serve at the center of the story, developed by Creative Tech Manager John Goldring and Alicia Hill in communications working with the Modo Design Group. More will be coming your way in 2021, but, in the interim, we invite you to enjoy some of our “best of” from the summer series, including “How to Think Like a Futurist in Uncertain Times with Longpath Founder Ari Wallach,” and a Juneteenth Celebration, introduced by Dr. Mildred McClain and featuring Dr. Donna Cox and Bartees Cox.

Our Foundation: Connecting Value with Values

Systems produce outcomes according to the values on which they are founded. Groundswell’s values include equity, transformation, excellence, integrity, serving with joy, and supporting one another. Kristal Virgil, who leads organizational development and customer support (and who just got married this past weekend!), is on point incorporating our values and strategic plan into how we work – from how we celebrate gratitude every “Thankful Thursday” to how we approach team member development plans and reviews.

Wishing You All Defiant Peace and Joy This Holiday Season And a Blessed and Abundant New Year

With gratitude,

Michelle Moore
CEO, Groundswell