If you peek out your window as you fly over New York City, you might catch a glimpse of what Matt Russoti calls “fallow square footage.” In between the flashes of yellow taxi cabs and neon window signs, there is the gray of empty rooftops. If Matt had a superpower, it would be the ability to see community impact where others see the necessary lid on a building.

Matt is President and CEO of Sol Purpose Development Company, an organization that aims to further renewable energy development that serves the broader public interest. Sol Purpose started as an “impact developer” in 2018 and, along with its partner, Accord Power, the leading solar engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) company in New York City, works to expand access to affordable clean energy in low-to-moderate-income (LMI) communities. Matt and Lincoln Xia, Accord Power’s CEO, have been on a mission to prove that tying sustainability to local benefit is not only doable but imperative.

In its first year, Sol Purpose won a bid on the first New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) procurement project to install solar panels on the rooftops of a public housing campus and provide discounted energy to low-to-moderate-income customers in New York City. It was Matt’s initial opportunity to test his theory that public housing community solar is a high-impact economic driver, and the results were encouraging.

Sol Purpose and Accord Power doubled down on the project’s impact, combining renewable energy generation with workforce development for public housing residents. In addition to reducing utility costs, the project created 13 full-time green energy jobs at Accord Power and dedicated its project profits to fund 10 scholarships for associate’s degree programs for the Bard Microcollege at the Brooklyn Public Library. Six of the people supported lived in the buildings where the solar was installed, and four went on to secure prevailing wage jobs with their employers.

“That first project confirmed that this was the type of community solar work that needed to be done,” said Matt. “When I talk about localizing benefit, it doesn’t get much more local than that.” Since that initial successful project, the organizations have provided over 20 NYCHA residents with green job training and professional certifications, and they continue to allocate a portion of profits to additional scholarships at the Bard Microcollege.

Building on their mission-driven partnership with NYCHA, Sol Purpose and Accord Power are now preparing to develop another 2.2MW of solar energy across seven public housing campuses. NYCHA, the largest housing authority in the United States, benefits not only from the environmental impact but also the financial returns, turning lease revenue from its properties into funding that benefits its own properties – namely, those that house the solar installations – as well as local community development projects.

Matt believes in a future where renewable energy and community development go hand in hand. However, he also acknowledges the challenges involved in launching each of these community solar projects. One of the biggest hurdles is financing.

“These projects are very complicated,” he said. “Some of them can be quite small – a 2-megawatt development across multiple buildings that has to be broken down into smaller pieces, all requiring complex paperwork, detailed administration, and comprehensive diligence. Those are the types of complications that drive lenders crazy.”

Bill Greenleaf, who leads Locus’ growing solar lending practice, isn’t easily fazed. “It’s not that crazy,” added Bill. “We have a long history of doing these deals now. It’s hard for solar developers to find a lender, but not because they’re unbankable. It’s just complex. But we get it.”

Early last year, Matt contacted Bill about the upcoming NYCHA project. With a total of 74 solar installations across the seven campuses, it will be the largest public housing community solar project in the country. Combined with the track record of financing similar projects, the mission alignment made this partnership a no-brainer for Bill.

When the project surfaced a couple of years ago, so did Matt’s partnership with Lincoln of Accord Power, an industry-leading, fully integrated EPC company that develops, owns, and operates solar installations in New York City and New Jersey. Lincoln’s goal is to use this project as a springboard to do more of these projects for multi-family developments in the city. Like Matt, Lincoln has a mission to prove the value and necessity of this work.

“I think it’s all about democratizing solar benefits through workforce development and energy savings,” said Lincoln. “But I think the equally important thing for us is proof of concept—that this can be done. You can create localized benefits and do it in a profitable manner. I think that is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.”

Through this highly collaborative approach, the project is on track to be completed by Q4 of this year. The arrays are predicted to generate over 2MW of solar energy every year and provide local low-to-moderate-income customers with renewable energy at a 20% discount to market rate. Additional scholarships will be funded, five full-time jobs will be created for NYCHA residents, and Sol Purpose is partnering with two local nonprofits to offer specialized career training for 15 others. Always thinking of additional meaningful benefits to wrap into projects, Matt also joined forces with the nonprofit NYC Mesh to provide free Wi-Fi for the campuses.

Through these projects, everyone wins, especially in the city where real estate square footage is one of the country’s most valuable commodities. Public housing community solar generates revenue for an agency like NYCHA, creates jobs in communities where they are in short supply, and advances municipal clean energy and sustainability goals.

For Locus, this project checks all the boxes of a truly collaborative approach to community development. In Sol Purpose and Accord Power, we found existing mission-aligned ecosystem partners whose work crosses sectors and generates real, local benefits in underestimated communities. The effort also tapped the expertise of community-embedded organizations, including a public agency and nonprofits, to enhance and expand impact across key community health areas.

The best news? Matt and Lincoln have a pipeline of future projects that will generate over 8MW of additional solar energy across public housing developments in New York City. They’ve also spent time advising public agencies and housing authorities in other states, like Delaware, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico, where the public sector is exploring how to scale community solar to fit smaller rooftops. But they haven’t stopped there – their impact is being acknowledged globally.

“I spoke at the United Nations back when we were in the middle of our first project,” Matt shared. “I talked with municipal leaders in Latin America about these projects, and they had never heard of such a thing. They wanted to learn more. That was a validating and transformative experience…to see this work inspiring others on a global scale.”

This type of innovation and dedication to community impact is what motivates us at Locus to embrace complexity in pursuit of strengthening ecosystems and advancing equitable development. And it certainly makes us look at those empty rooftops in a whole new way.

To learn more about Sol Purpose, visit www.solpurpose.co. To learn more about Accord Power, visit www.accordpower.com. To learn more about NYCHA, visit www.nyc.gov. To partner with Locus on your next clean energy project, contact us.

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