Block by block, he aims to fight injustice and save the planet
Solar panels and clean heat shouldn’t be limited to the wealthy, says Donnel Baird, who’s bringing green power to low-income neighborhoods.
Donnel Baird kept his coat on while he toured the aging sanctuary. His breath froze on his face mask as he took in the peeling plaster, the dusty basement, the failing boiler that never seemed able to make Bright Light Baptist Church warm.
But when he peered into the kitchen, the shiver he felt was one of recognition. Every burner on the stove was lit. The oven door was open, its temperature set on high.
It was exactly how Baird’s family tried to heat his childhood home more than three decades earlier, in another Brooklyn building with a dysfunctional HVAC system. The landlord wouldn’t address the problem, and the family couldn’t afford to move. So they stayed, the need to keep their children warm outweighing the danger of toxic fumes and open flames.
Baird, 40, has made it his life’s work to ensure other people don’t have to make that choice.
That’s why he launched BlocPower. Since its inception in 2012, his Brooklyn-based start-up has brought clean energy to more than 1,100 low-income buildings across the New York area. Baird’s business plan is simple: the company replaces heating and cooling systems that run on fossil fuels with greener, more efficient alternatives such as electric heat pumps and solar panels. That reduces the pollution driving climate change while also making indoor air healthier. The gains in efficiency generate enough savings to lower costs for property owners and deliver a profit to BlocPower investors. And the renovations create jobs and increase property values, building wealth in neighborhoods that have long been marginalized.
After collecting more than $60 million in his latest round of fundraising, Baird is eyeing an expansion to dozens more cities, including Philadelphia; Milwaukee; Oakland, Calif. He is not shy about his ambitions. Working building by building, block by block, he aims to address injustice and help save the planet.
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