Author: Dava Gives Published: 6/29/2020 50Black Enterprise
Kristal Hansley Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Image via WeSolar Energy/Alex McSwain
Solar energy is promised to be the new source of our power as we move into the future. It is important that as this new sector experiences rapid growth that we also work to make sure it is accessible to everyone and not just a select few. According to a recent PwC Global Power & Utilities Survey, 97% of utility executives across the globe expect a medium to high-level of disruption in their main home markets by 2020. Meet the Black woman making sure Black communities have access to solar power.
After extensive work in government, entrepreneur and advocate Kristal Hansley launched her community solar farm company, WeSolar Energy with the goal to provide underserved and underfunded communities access to solar energy. “During my time leading the Community Affairs policy at Congresswoman Eleanor Norton’s office, Maryland passed new laws to increase the use of solar energy across the state. I saw how effectively solar could reduce the cost of electricity for households, and decided to get involved in the emerging world of community solar,” said Hansley in an email interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“I started a position at Neighborhood Sun, a regional solar company in Maryland, as director of Government and Community Relations. After working with solar energy developers and city leadership in Baltimore helping thousands of low-to-moderate-income families save on their utility bills, I decided to launch my own company dedicated specifically to opening community solar farms in neighborhoods like Baltimore.”
Through her company, Hansley is able to build solar farms for communities to use on a local utility grid. “Customers can either subscribe to blocks of electricity or purchase a portion of the solar panels,” she explained. “Households [can] sign up at [our website] and Renewable Energy Credits are added to their electric bills from their allotted energy production.”
It was important to service communities in major cities where there are high populations of Black Americans who have always faced issues getting their fair share from local governments.
“Baltimore and Camden are neighborhoods that have historically been under-resourced, and certainly left out of the green energy movement,” said Hansley. “Bringing solar farms to these neighborhoods means bringing community solar energy to communities that have not had it before. By signing up for WeSolar, the average household saves $250 a year and $6,000 over the course of 20 years, which is the average term life of solar panels. Especially in this current moment, with a pandemic-induced recession, these farms help to create economic resilience and alleviate economic uncertainty for those who have been historically marginalized.”
“The Community Solar model directly challenges the hundred-year-old monopoly where utility companies dominated the energy industry,” she said. “Community Solar guarantees clean energy to Black families at a steep discount for 20 years. The lifespan of the solar panels.”
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. The CEO, Kristal Hansley, and her team are disrupters who advocate that communities of color and low-income communities be included in this shift and have a healthy environment in the future.
WeSolar was founded by Kristal Hansley, an entrepreneur and advocate for the use of solar power to help hard-working families reduce monthly expenses.
Since her childhood growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Kristal has been passionate about serving the community and standing up for the rights of others. After graduating from Howard University in 2011, her growing expertise in diversity, equal housing, and access to education brought her to Capitol Hill. She first made her mark when she was honored as the 2010 Howard University Legislative Fellow, which led to her tenure in the U.S. Senate on the staff of Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In addition to serving as Program Manager for the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative, she was Majority Leader Reid’s liaison to local, state, and federal officials, and national organizations. Later, Kristal continued her work empowering constituents with legislative support favorable to average citizens by heading up Community Affairs policy in the office of Congresswomen Elanor Norton.
During this time, the State of Maryland and others passed laws designed to increase the use of solar power while deregulating the market to give consumers more choices to meet their energy needs. Seeing the role that solar could play in reducing the cost of electricity for households, Kristal decided to get involved in the new but quickly growing business of sourcing energy from community solar providers as an alternative to the big utilities. For an explanation of how community solar works, click here.
Kristal’s experience gained on Capitol Hill was a perfect fit for her role as Director of Government and Community Relations for Neighborhood Sun, a regional solar company in Maryland. Working with solar energy developers and city leadership, she has helped thousands of low-to-moderate-income families save on their utility bills.
Following her entrepreneurial spirit once again, Kristal decided to leverage her knowledge in this emerging industry and launch WeSolar. Mentored by the leadership of Neighborhood Sun and with the support of solar energy providers, WeSolar was born!
Today, Kristal is the nation’s first African American Woman CEO in the community solar industry. Under her leadership We Solar is growing quickly, providing consumers across Maryland access to affordable solar energy, regardless whether they live in a house, apartment, condo, or mobile home. Soon millions of others can join them as the company rolls out their program throughout the mid-Atlantic.
In her spare time Kristal serves on the Steering Committee for the non-profit Baltimore People Climate Movement and the board of directors of Maryland Baptist Aged Home, Dads United Organization, and F.A.C.E. (Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-Offenders).
A long-time supporter of the arts, Kristal studied music from a young age, becoming a classically trained concert pianist and a mezzo-soprano opera singer.