ImpactAlpha, Sept. 3 – On neighborhood strolls, Jessica Brooks sees schools, churches, apartment buildings – and unused rooftops. Such “infill” spaces represent a trillion-dollar solar energy opportunity to generate a quarter of the U.S.’s energy needs. “Yet they’re totally overlooked by the big investors,” says Brooks, chief development officer at Sunwealth.
The Cambridge Mass.-based company builds, owns and operates community-scale solar projects that cut occupants’ energy bills and share the benefits of clean energy and next-economy jobs with communities, many of them in low-income and underserved areas. The 1.8-megawatt solar array Sunwealth is installing on the Queensbridge Houses in New York will generate lease revenue for the New York City Housing Authority, discounted energy for low-income households and green jobs for local residents. Call it ‘solar justice.’
Brooks started her career at BlueHub Capital, a Boston-based community development financial institution, or CDFI. Sunwealth, founded in 2014 by Jon Abe, applies that same focus on underserved communities to climate finance. Brooks joined up in 2018. “It’s not just one of the biggest business opportunities of our generation, it’s one of the biggest economic-justice opportunities,” she says.
Sunwealth has invested $65 million in 450 projects in 14 states as customers and communities look to combat climate change and increase local resilience. “Nonprofits, the local food bank… these are all groups that pay their electric bill and are great credit risks,” she says.
Brooks contributed a well-read essay this week, sparked by her son’s worry over the fate of the planet, about her personal investment philosophy. “Our communities are ripe with opportunity – both financial and impact,” she says, “if you adjust your lens.”