(June 12, 2017, Washington, DC) -- Residents of Wards 7 and 8 in the District pay the highest energy costs per square foot in the city even though they are least able to afford it, a white paper by energy equity non-profit Groundswell found.
One out of 14 low income households in DC are paying more than 20 percent of their total household income for electricity. And nearly 60 percent of all DC residents living in poverty pay more than $1200 a year for household electricity, putting these households at daily risk of sacrificing other essential needs like food and medicine to pay their energy bills. This challenge is most acute East of the Anacostia River, which houses the highest percentage of renters per capita in the District and where more than 55 percent of rental units are unaffordable for their residents, by Housing and Urban Development standards.
Percent of Population Living Below the Poverty Line in DC, 2010-2014
By nearly every metric, the educational, income, housing, and environmental progress that have redefined Washington stops at the banks of the Anacostia River. With several million square feet of new residential and commercial construction is scheduled to come to Wards 7 and 8 over the next five years, the District currently has a unique window of opportunity to address the housing and energy cost challenges East of the River.
Building Prosperity in East of the River through Community Solar
While a number of public and private initiatives focused on housing affordability are already underway, an emerging opportunity in renewable energy has the potential to drive community led growth east of the river and provide fair access to affordable energy. Community solar was made available in the District in 2016. Complementary to other affordability and community-led economic development programs, community solar represents a powerful and immediate opportunity to include the residents of Wards 7 and 8 in affordable solar energy projects with 10% or more annual savings on electricity costs, depending on project details. When paired with home energy efficiency or weatherization improvements, the impacts can be even larger for low and moderate income households.
Solar projects can also provide recurring lease or other structured cash payments to property owners for the use of space that is often not fully utilized for income, including rooftops and parking lots. The District’s strong financial and policy incentives related to its sustainability plan, net metering legislation, and renewable portfolio standard have created an environment where long-term stable cash flows can, under the right circumstances, be guaranteed for many of the larger existing property holders in Wards 7 and 8, including churches, low-income housing providers, and other community-based organizations.
After years of neglect, a surge of developer interest and demographic shifts are poised to create massive changes in Wards 7 & 8. The city must effectively channel these new pressures to ensure that both current and future residents will have fair access to affordable housing, including affordable energy.