In February 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration officially rejoined the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change, and thus established greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. This decision offsets rollbacks on climate change policy during former President Donald Trump’s term in office.
Most significantly, the current administration recommended a transition to 100% clean energy by 2035, a proposition which offers hope amid climate change’s jarring global effects like extreme weather events and clean water shortages.
In a city like Washington, D.C., which generates limited amounts of its own clean energy, this goal is only feasible if policymakers are willing to increase investment in solar energy. Therefore, as Georgetown University students, we must advocate for increased solar energy expenditures both on campus and in the greater D.C. area to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and reduce climate change. Furthermore, we must be attentive to the financial burden renewable energy can pose to low-income communities and must fight for the fair and equitable distribution of green energy.
Currently, the District sources more than half of its energy from nonrenewable methods, namely gas and coal. Natural gas constituted 38% of D.C.’s energy consumption in 2021 and biomass comprised an additional 16%.
Furthermore, the city’s large commercial sector — that the sheer number of federal office buildings boosts — accounts for 70% of total electricity retail sales in the District. Although small in size, D.C. expends a larger portion of electricity in their commercial sector than any state.
Despite this significant reliance on nonrenewable resources, the District has an ambitious plan to reduce fossil fuel use in the near future. The city plans to transition to 100% clean energy by 2032, according to D.C.’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. However, to meet this goal, the District will need to increase its investment in solar energy, utilizing producers around the D.C. area, such as Advanced Solar and D.C. Solar LLC through the local Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco), an electric utility which sources surrounding states as well.
As for Georgetown, the university divested coal from its $1.5 billion endowment in 2015, a decision which will sharply decrease the university’s use of fossil fuels. In October 2020, the university launched the Power Purchase Agreement, which plans an investment in 100,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually from 11 solar plants over the course of 15 years. Generally, a single household light bulb requires between two and 100 watts, with one megawatt equivalent to 1 million watts.
Although D.C. and the university are making notable strides in the transition to renewable energy, this shift is not without its setbacks — one of which remains the cost to low-income households.
Solar for All, a D.C. legislative project founded in 2012, is an environmental justice program that aids in the equitable distribution of solar energy to low and moderate-income households. Enrollees in the program have the opportunity to reduce their electric bills by up to 50%, making renewables affordable for all. This is key for the national adoption of climate policies that permit equitable distribution of renewable energy sources.
However, Pepco, D.C.’s main energy supplier, has violated the city’s agreement, failing to provide these discounts on energy bills to low-income customers. The D.C. office of the Attorney General found the company was potentially overcharging more than 6,000 customers and has failed to pay owners of community solar facilities. Meetings with Pepco in July 2020 proved futile, and, thus, the distributor’s systemic violations undermined environmental justice efforts and D.C.’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.
As Georgetown students, we must be steadfast in our support of increased solar energy expenditure as well as D.C.’s environmental justice objectives. Participation in environmental advocacy groups on campus, such as GREEN, remains a tangible means to support increased use of renewable resources on campus.
Although fighting for an increase in solar energy remains critical for helping the District reach its emission reduction goal, students cannot stop their advocacy there. Rather, they must be conscious of the ways in which inequitable access and distribution of these clean resources persists, especially as our communities adapt to a green future.
As Georgetown students, we must advocate for the equitable distribution of clean energy in the District. Only when every resident of D.C. has access to clean and renewable energy can there truly be equitable climate justice for all.
Grace Rivers is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. Weeding Out Injustice is published every third Friday.