Imagine a renewable world, with solar panels and energy efficiency for all.
The three cofounders of a business called New Haven Community Solar have imagined that worked, and are working to make this dream a reality. First stop: The Hill neighborhood.
The trio, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies graduates Kwasi Ansu, Matt Moroney, and Franz Hochstrasser, founded New Haven Community Solar (NHCS) as well as an environmentally themed crowdsourcing site called Raise Green in May.
Their most recent initiative involves a partnership with Columbus House and the Yale School of Architecture to crowdfund the resources necessary to install a solar array on the 2018 Jim Vlock building project, a two-unit home located on 41-43 Button St. designed and built for a low-income family by Yale architecture students.
NHCS aims to lower the city’s energy costs and carbon footprint. Moroney explained that the use of renewable energy in business operations would allow companies to spend less time negotiating utility contracts, and more time in focusing their efforts on their mission.
The Raise Green online platform is seeking regulatory approval so it can support campaigns similar to popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, but with an innovative twist. The Raise Green model uses the principles of project finance and creates an opportunity for individuals who make less than $200,000 a year to purchase an equity stake in renewable energy projects. The pitch is to match planet-minded investors with green projects like solar power installations in low-income communities.
The community solar project, meanwhile, aims to open “new investment pathways to everyday people,” Moroney said. “It’s a way to democratize the access of not just investing, but also owning and benefiting from clean energy infrastructure that we need to build.”
CEO Hochstrasser — who worked for eight years in the Obama administration as senior advisor to the State Department’s special envoy for climate change and on the negotiation team for the Paris Agreement — emphasized that NHCS strives to serve companies and groups that can help lower and middle income brackets by offsetting their power costs. “We think that [NHCS’s resources] are some of the tools that can help do that more effectively,” he said.
In NHCS’s first project with Yale School of Architecture, Columbus House will be buying the renewable power and will install solar panels in January for the house on Button.
“We really have been taught in the School of Forestry thinking globally but acting locally,” said Ansu, who spent ten years working on international development and natural resource management in Africa and Indonesia. He said NHCS offers “a local avenue with great incentives that people can get behind.”
Connecticut has an official Comprehensive Energy Strategy with a target of 40 percent renewable energy by 2030, but “we’re currently less than 5 percent in the state,” Moroney said. “We’re sort of following in the great tradition of trying to innovate creative ways to bring more capital to bear to deploy more clean energy, and actually get to a point where it is at the scale sufficient to combat some of these larger societal issues and challenges like climate change and air pollution.”
“There’s risks like all investment,” said Moroney. He said the project will “help diversify more capital into community level projects that help organizations better serve their missions” while simultaneously tackling climate change, air pollution, and income inequality. Moroney said that the team is focusing on the Vlock Building Project as its first project, then hopes “to expand in the greater New Haven area.”
In a political climate that questions the legitimacy of human impact on climate change and the daunting reality of energy inefficiency, solutions to these global issues seem like impossible hurdles to overcome.
“In the face of these large societal challenges, at times it can make people feel like they don’t have anything that they can personally do to be part of the solution,” said Moroney. “This is our way of trying to provide some self-efficacy and agency in the face of those challenges.”