ITCs Help Low-Income Washington, D.C., Residents Receive Free Electricity

Published by Mark O’Meara on Thursday, November 7, 2019
Journal cover thumb November 2019

New Partners Community Solar Corporation is building solar arrays throughout the nation’s capital.

The solar systems are unique for several reasons: they are built on commercial rooftops at various locations, they provide free electricity to the city’s low-income households residing in different locations and they are being developed and operated by a law firm-supported nonprofit.

“We transfer 100 percent of the energy credits produced by their solar arrays to people across the city,” said Jeff Lesk, co-founder and vice president of New Partners Community Solar Corporation, a nonprofit corporation formed by Nixon Peabody’s pro bono initiative. “New Partners Community Solar’s mission is environmental justice. The benefits of renewable energy should be felt equally by all people.”

With three commercial rooftop arrays under its belt, New Partners Community Solar is in its second phase of such projects in Washington, D.C.

Phase 2 includes four solar arrays. The 105.8 kW array at 616 H St. NW includes the largest vertical solar array in the city. Herb Stevens, co-founder and president of New Partners Community Solar, said vertical solar arrays are placed high up on the south-facing walls of buildings.

“We wanted to prove out this idea for unusual spaces for solar,” said Stevens, “because developing solar in downtown Washington, D.C., is challenging … There’s only so much rooftop space.”

The 64 kW solar array at 1101 New York Ave. NW is among the first significantly sized solar-plus-green roofs in downtown Washington, D.C., according to New Partners Community Solar. This installation also includes a vertical solar array and a solar canopy over the rooftop terrace, featuring another unusual feature–“bifacial” solar panels. “There are solar panels on the top and bottom of the canopy. The top generates power from sunlight overhead, and the bottom utilizes reflected light from the roof terrace surface,” said Stevens.

Journal November 2019 New Partners Community Solar Corporation

Image: Courtesy of New Partners Community Solar Corporation
New Partners Community Solar Corporation’s cofounders Herb Stevens and Jeff Lesk stand with solar panels that provide free electricity to lowincome households across Washington, D.C.

The third array in Phase 2 is an 84.6 kW vertical solar array at 1775 I St. NW. There is the rooftop solar array and solar canopy (collectively 230.4 kW) at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School at 659 G St. NE. The solar canopy will be placed over part of the playground to provide a covered play space and educational opportunities for the children.

The combined 484.8 kW of solar power will generate enough electricity to provide free electricity to 162 low-income households across Washington, D.C. New Partners Community Solar signs up low-income subscribers to receive this renewable energy at no cost. Since Nixon Peabody’s Affordable Housing practice connects them with affordable housing developers, New Partners Community Solar was able to select three trusted, highly impactful nonprofits (National Housing Trust, Mission First and Jubilee Housing) to help socialize the program and ultimately register residents at their multifamily housing developments. Resident beneficiaries include a significant number of very low-income tenants–who are most vulnerable and most in need of the free renewable energy credits on their monthly utility bills.

The program is designed to cut all participating residents’ electric bills in half.

Phase 2 solar arrays come online between September and December 2019.

These solar arrays were made possible through Washington, D.C.’s, Solar for All program (established through the Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016 and administered by the District’s Department of Energy and Environment) and will bring the benefits of clean renewable solar to 100,000 low- and moderate-income families in Washington, D.C., by 2032. While residents can participate in Solar for All if their household income is below 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), New Partners’ participants are typically between 30 percent and 60 percent of the AMI.

“Solar for All comes on the heels of Washington, D.C.’s, Community Solar law, allowing solar developers to put solar on any D.C. real estate and transfer the energy benefits to low-income residents, directly cutting residents electric bills,” said Stevens.

“Community Solar, which is now available in 16 other states as well, allows for the segregation of where solar is produced vs where the benefit is realized,” said Lesk. New Partners’ Phase 1 was the District’s first Community Solar program.

Building Solar in Washington, D.C.

“There are a lot of challenges when installing solar on rooftops in Washington, D.C. We don’t have a lot of land for industrial scale solar arrays,” said Lesk. “It is also difficult to interconnect one-off commercial building solar installations to the grid. And, building owners are protective of their roofs–so projects are subject to strict scrutiny.”

Washington, D.C., has its benefits as well.

“Washington, D.C., is an interesting place for solar. All downtown commercial buildings are approximately the same height because of zoning requirements, so there are no shadows,” said Lesk.

Financing

U.S. Bank has committed to provide roughly $650,000 in investment tax credit (ITC) equity for Phase 2. While a modest investment, Lan Sasa, vice president at U.S. Bank, enjoyed working on this project for many reasons.  In particular, U.S. Bank was attracted to the mission-based aspect of New Partners Community Solar and the fact that free energy goes to low-income residents. “We were so happy to work with New Partners on this deal.  Energy equity has become a focus for the bank so it’s really special that the project beneficiaries will be able to meaningfully reduce their overall energy burdens.” 

“The ITCs were imperative to lower the financing costs of the installations in order for the projects to provide free electricity to low-income families in the community. Without the ITCs, New Partners Community Solar would never have been able to provide free electricity to those low-income families,” said Matt Meeker, partner in the Dover, Ohio, office of Novogradac, which provided tax structuring consultation and the financial forecast for the tax credit closing. “Closing this transaction is testament to all financial parties and professionals working together to accomplish a common goal.  There were many legal and tax structuring issues to overcome to finance these projects. The dedication by the team at New Partners Community Solar was truly the driving force to complete this financing.”

The capital stack for Phase 2 also included a grant from the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment as well as a loan from United Bank–which underwrote the loan to be repaid from New Partners’ sale of carbon credits (Solar Renewable Energy Credits, which are distinct from the ITCs) generated by New Partners’ arrays.

New Partners Community Solar’s Other Work in D.C.

New Partners Community Solar has other innovative solar projects in Washington, D.C.

New Partners Community Solar partnered with Jubilee Housing, a nonprofit that creates affordable housing for low-income residents, to create a resiliency hub at The Maycroft Apartments in Washington, D.C.

This resiliency hub includes solar panels on the roof of the apartments as well as battery storage. The battery, which can continue to be charged by Maycroft’s rooftop solar array–even when the grid goes down–can power the community room for three days. In the event of a natural disaster, residents can come to the community room to charge their phones and store medications and other necessities. The resiliency hub will be ventilated and serve as a communication center during the outage.

“This is a great technological solution to climate change, especially for people who are the most vulnerable to power outages,” said Stevens.

“The impact of the New Partners Community Solar program–both socially and environmentally–truly represents our core firm values,” said Andrew Glincher, CEO and managing partner of Nixon Peabody. “It’s a great example of the power of collaboration, bringing together Nixon Peabody’s Pro Bono, Sustainability and Innovation Initiatives to effectively execute on our vision.”