Along with 22 other citizens who have done something special, former Washington Bullets player Mark Davis will join First Lady Michelle Obama in the guest box tonight as President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address. Davis wasn’t invited because of his basketball career, but for the role he is playing in Washington, D.C., in getting solar-powered electricity onto the rooftops of some of the district’s poorest households.
The 6’ 8” high school and college hoopster played twice for the Bullets, in Chicago and in Europe. When he returned to the States, he started his own title company. Then seven years ago, he was spurred by Obama’s election to start WDC Solar, which he still runs. His goals: Make solar affordable to everyone, create good jobs and train people to do them, improve air quality, and confront the realities of climate change.
Two years ago he told David Ferris at Sierra magazine:
I bought into everything when President Barack Obama was running, and took classes, got certified, and created the business. The idea is to train people in the community to install solar panels, and then to actually install panels on low-income-family homes at no cost to the residents. We also want to install bigger projects, megawatt-scale, on government and commercial buildings. Every day I’m doing something different, which is one of the things I like about it.
Anacostia is across the river from Capitol Hill. It’s been long denied the economic development the rest of the city has had. We have the highest high school dropout rate in D.C. The crime rate here is higher than in the rest of the city. […]
In Anacostia we have community workshops where residents come out and we explain how solar works. Very few people buy in from the environmental perspective. Most people want to see the money. We let them know that solar will save them money every single month on their electric bill, and that’s for the next 20 to 25 years. They see a positive cash flow, and that money goes right back into the community, to food for the family, medicine, education, whatever. I’ve heard a lot of people say what they were going to do with that $45 or $50 that goes right back into their pockets.
It costs WDC Solar’s customers nothing for their solar systems. The systems are paid for with federal and D.C. tax credits, Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, and private funds. Residents own their systems from the get-go and they save about $500 a year on their electricity bills compared to what it cost when they powered their homes with non-renewable energy.
When Davis began in 2009, his company was the only solar installer in the city. Now there are several. But, while WDC Solar installs the systems across Washington, most of its installations are in wards seven and eight, the city’s poorest. The company has also trained about 100 people in various aspects of solar installation.
While his company has installed 125 systems on its own, Davis says he is proud to have persuaded D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility to start a low-income installation program of its own. This past year, DCSEU has installed more than 125 solar systems for low-income residents, for a total of more than 300.
Davis says he hopes to start similar programs in 2016 in New York, Pennsylvania, and his home state of Georgia.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)