By Constance Thompson
August 27, 2021
The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) is thrilled to share the first installment in our “Ask an Accelerate Member” blog series. Each installment will feature one of ACORE’s Accelerate member companies. August is National Black Business Month, so this month we are focused on Black-owned renewable energy companies.
Kristal Hansley is the Founder & CEO of WeSolar, Inc. and is the nation’s first Black Woman CEO in the community solar industry. Under her leadership, WeSolar is growing quickly, providing consumers across Maryland access to affordable solar energy, regardless of home type and helping hard-working families reduce monthly expenses.
What inspired you to start your company?
The stark fact that the majority of households who were receiving renewable energy incentives were higher income. I remember learning this and believing there had to be a way to address this gap. I noticed there was a problem, I had my own ideas to solve it and I wanted to have agency over my own decisions. I was at a community meeting with 50 Black women organizers who were not invested in the community solar movement. Once I began to explain how critical and urgent it was for us to be a part of the solar movement, it felt like a lightbulb had turned on for me. I started showing how higher income communities and people in the suburbs were taking advantage of this and received a ton of support. The truth is, energy usage impacts Black household budgets greatly. 36% of Black households experience a high energy burden, meaning they spend over 6% of their income on home energy bills. That’s a massive percentage. To be able to offer a product that will save our community up to 60% on their energy bills is transformative.
Tell us about your company? (mission, partners, regions you operate in, primary customers, etc.)
WeSolar’s mission is to bring under-resourced communities affordable access to local community solar and to assist commercial properties with energy efficiency. WeSolar launched in Baltimore and will expand to other cities in the future. Through WeSolar, electricity consumers can purchase shared solar from a local project without having to install any equipment in their homes. In turn, residents save hundreds on their electricity bills. In Maryland, lawmakers passed legislation that states 50 percent of its electricity must come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
What challenges do you face? Why?
To a community that is already facing so many pressing challenges, convincing them that there is another one just as important is very difficult. I remember trying to explain community solar to my friends and the conversation quickly pivoting to housing. The truth of the matter is, institutional racism and oppression is larger than we know and it drowns our community. Where Black people are not being invested in, we are being asked to prioritize constantly for our survival.
Please share with us a recent company success story.
A very personal success story for me is cultivating a partnership with Maryland United Baptist Missionary Convention, Inc. I grew up in a baptist church in Brooklyn where my cousin was the pastor and my mom was an organizer — community was stitched into my very being. When I first moved to Baltimore, the Community Solar Pilot Program was launched and I wanted to ensure city residents were receiving the same amount of investment as the county. It was the church that took me in, and the church that then supported my vision – bringing everything full circle. Renewable energy has historically been a middle class issue because Black communities have had to live in survival mode, but Reverend Mason and Reverend Dewitt brought me into the circle and connected me with the people I needed to connect with in order to make this partnership successful.