Washington, DC — On July 3, 2023, the Earth experienced its hottest day on record. Some cities faced temperatures as high as 121 degrees Fahrenheit. Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that we must transform our policies and behaviors to combat climate change and address environmental injustice. Scientists and activists are leading the way alongside community leaders and practitioners in the field. Progress toward a sustainable future will involve armies of partners across the globe.
The complexities of reforming our energy infrastructure require tenacity and exceptional commitment. VCC’s Bill Greenleaf recognized those qualities immediately in the founders of Flywheel Development—sustainable builders that specialize in resiliency and equity. While relentlessly undertaking over 49 projects within DC and Maryland, principals Jessica Pitts and John Miller have demonstrated leadership at a critical stage.
As frequently cited in Flywheel’s work, 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions come from buildings. Urban environments also involve more challenges to navigate and rules to follow. Utilities, governmental agencies, logistical measures, and supply chain issues make in-depth expertise important. Many larger solar companies choose to operate in rural areas where they can buy farms or land usage rights and set up enormous arrays. Allocating the resources and having the patience to persevere in an urban environment are distinct skill sets.
Funding can also be an obstacle. Solar installation requires a significant cost outlay, and banks that accept the equipment as collateral are scarce. Mission-driven lending, experience with grants, interest buydowns, and innovative financing all make this type of work possible.
The challenges, however, divert attention from where it should actually be paid. We have the ability to harness a natural, renewable, abundant resource for the planet’s benefit. We also have the technology to do it. “Whatever the risks or challenges are,” Pitts insists, “the benefits far outweigh them.” This perspective is both normative – as it should be—and essential to sustaining work that must be done.
We share the same focus and urgency. For our first collaboration, Flywheel received financing to set up 10 commercial systems that will deliver free solar energy to 200-300 households over the course of 15 years. The energy collected by the systems will be distributed into the grid for DC’s Solar for All Program, which aims to provide energy for 100,000 residents in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Recent data indicates that households facing energy insecurity frequently pay more than average consumers. A cost reduction in utility bills and better air quality will benefit both the health and wealth of our communities.
The idea of the Solar for All program was recently adopted on a federal level under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which seeks to provide benefits to communities that have inequitably shouldered the effects of environmental injustice. They are estimated by the Department of Energy to be three times higher than average.
An additional solar installation across 11 properties in the northeastern area of the District will generate 1.7MW of solar energy. As a result, approximately 500 households will see energy cost reductions. DC is required to run on 100% renewable energy electricity by 2032, which creates an environment ripe for opportunity. Flywheel Development is leading the way forward with determination and perspective. We would all benefit from following.
To learn more about the work of Flywheel Development, click here. To learn more about solar lending, contact Bill Greenleaf, Vice President of Clean Energy Lending at Virginia Community Capital.
About Virginia Community Capital
Our solar lending program serves commercial distributed scale projects, community solar and small business solar systems. We can fund up to 75 percent of the purchase price and offer loan terms ranging from five to 15 years. To date, we have financed more than 18.7MW in solar energy production.