Kassandra Reyes is currently a project manager for New Columbia Solar. She is one of the developers working with the DCSEU on the Solar for All program. She started working with New Columbia Solar in March of 2020, previously with Sunrun Tesla Solar City. The DCSEU sat down with her to discuss how she got started in the industry and what it's like working in solar here in DC.
How long have you’ve been working for New Columbia Solar?
It’s been about a year and four months now. I started 2 weeks right before the pandemic shut everything down. I was lucky enough to be able to meet everyone in the office for two weeks before we started working from home. Initially, it (the pandemic) was really weird. It took maybe a month or so for us to all get used to it.
Where did you go to school and what did you major in? Did you know that you wanted to work in solar when you were in college?
I went to Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and I majored in International Business Administration with a minor in environmental studies. I viewed everything as a business, whether you’re a teacher or nurse. I also had a interest in environmentalism which made it the best path for me because I was able to combine both of my passions. I would not say that I necessarily knew that (my career) would be specifically solar, but I knew that it was going to involve helping the earth. I’ve always been passionate about recycling, saving the ocean, and the bees. It just happened that one of my first opportunities was solar related and as I learned about it, I fell in love.
What does sustainable energy mean to you?
It is everything, wrapped into one. It is the answer to how we are going to be able to continue to live in a society that can breathe fresh air and eat good food. I do not understand how some people cannot see that.
What was an important lesson that you learned that helped you in your career?
The most important lesson was knowing when to say no. I tend to be very hands on and very controlling of everything. I always want to be included in all the emails and review every project. However, if I say yes to doing too many things, it just kind of decreases my bandwidth. If I’m not at 100% then I am actually useless in all the things that I’m trying to accomplish. In turn, I have to make sure that my team knows that I have the utmost confidence that they can do whatever is needed.
What are some challenges that you have faced while working in your field?
The biggest challenge is learning a lot of the construction side of things. It’s also realizing that just because something has been done one way before does not mean it’s the best way to do it. Having no construction experience prior to this has been a learning curve for me. I have been spending as much time as possible in the field to get a first -hand look at how things are done.
What is your favorite part of your work?
I enjoy dealing with so many moving parts. I get to talk to engineers that are super smart and people behind the scenes. I get to meet construction guys that are rough around the edges but have so much knowledge to share. All of these parts come together to bring the project to life.
What does your typical day look like?
Every day is kind of different. In the morning, I do end up going to the site to see how the projects are going. I like to visually see what the progress is that we’ve obtained. Then, I usually either go to the warehouse or the office to follow up on different things and the statues updates. Towards the end of the day, I’m planning for either that next day or that next week. It’s so important for timelines and schedules to make sure everything’s on track.
What is it like working on Solar for All projects like the one at Washington Tennis and Education Foundation? How does it make you feel knowing the electricity generated will support low- to moderate-income DC families?
Sometimes people can’t afford solar and they don’t have a good roof. However, we are still able to help people and inform them. With the help of others leasing the roof and lending their roof we have been able to make a huge difference. It feels amazing that I can help contribute to ease their financial struggle and if I could do it in any other ways, I would as well.
What do you hope for in the developing and changing of the solar industry/field?
I hope that more knowledge can be exchanged. I think there’s still a big portion of people that do not understand solar and are scared of it. There are also a lot of misconceptions around it. In places that get a lot of sun year-round, like Texas and Florida, people are still afraid to switch over. This should not be the case.