Donations will be tax deductible
Solar One is a non-profit organization that launched about 15 years ago with the goal of both educating people in the Greater New York community on solar energy and sustainability and making solar energy more accessible to everyone—particularly those who wouldn’t typically have access to it, such as community groups and affordable housing providers.
There are three main programs being run by Solar One: a K-12 environmental education program that’s been implemented in over 800 public schools in New York City, the Green Workforce Training Program that helps people obtain the skills necessary for entry-level positions in building operations and maintenance, electrical, carpentry, plumbing, and solar installation, and Here Comes Solar, a program dedicated to making solar energy accessible to everyone by providing technical support to groups and organizations in need.
Noah Ginsburg is the program director of Here Comes Solar, which identifies organizations that are interested in utilizing solar energy, answers all of their questions, sets them up with preliminary solar designs for their buildings, creates financial savings estimates, and helps them get bids from local solar installers. The program has already helped 20 affordable housing communities go solar, and there are no signs of slowing. Ginsburg discusses several of the projects they’re working on, one of which is a community-shared solar project making it possible for renters to participate in large solar projects occurring somewhere else in the city, and to benefit by not only saving on their energy bill but by gaining shareholder status in the cooperation. For example, their subscription will entitle them to a 15-20% discount on solar credits and a vote as to what is done with any profits from the cooperation. In this way, consumers hold the power, rather than corporations.
Tune in for all the details, and learn more by visiting solar1.org. If you live in the Greater New York City area and are interested in becoming part of a cooperation, visit sunsetparksolar.org and herecomessolar.nyc.
Richard Jacobs: Hello. This is Richard Jacobs with the future tech podcast. I have Noah Ginsburg, co-program director of solar one. Noah thanks for coming. How are you doing today?
Noah Ginsburg: Thanks for having me, Richard. I’m doing well. How about yourself?
Richard Jacobs: Yeah, I’m doing good. Doing good. So, so tell me about Solar One.
Noah Ginsburg: Absolutely. So nonprofit solar one, uh, was launched about 15 years ago, uh, with the belief that all New Yorkers have a role to play in our transition to clean energy. Um, so we have, uh, three primary programs that empower, uh, folks here in, uh, New York and the Greater New York community, uh, to participate in. To learn about sustainability and to actually advance sustainability here in the city. Um, so we have a k through 12 environmental education program that works in, we’ve worked in 800 public schools here in New York City. Um, we have a green worker training program that trains folks in hard skills that help them get entry-level employment and building operations and maintenance, electrical, carpentry, plumbing, uh, and solar installation. Um, and then, uh, the program that I run is, uh, called the “Here comes solar”, Here comes solar program was founded with the goal of making the benefits of solar accessible to everyone. Um, and we accomplish that by providing technical assistance to community groups and affordable housing providers and others that don’t typically have access to the benefits of solar. Um, and we, uh, work with those groups, in particular, to help them make solar projects happen.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. So is the focus essentially teaching people in the communities how to sustain themselves or is the focus is on solar specifically? It sounds like it’s more general but still useful. You know, all the skills needed including the energy inputs, the job skills, et cetera. I’d had to be a sustainable community.
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah. We have those three distinct programs and our, our green design lab is our environmental education program that educates young people and sustainability and cleans energy. And then we’ve got this lab in Long Island City, Queens, our green marker training facility where we do the hard skills training. And then here com solar is really, um, we basically work with buildings and community organizations to make solar projects happen. I mean, that’s, that’s the, my, most of my work is focused on here comes solar. So our role will work with, uh, for example, an affordable housing cooperative here in the city. Um, we’ll, uh, we’ll meet with them to help them figure out, um, answer their questions about solar. We’ll do a preliminary solar design for their building, put together a financial savings estimate, and then when they’re ready to move forward with the project, we actually help them get bids from local solar installers. Um, so we try to, uh, basically bring our technical expertise to, uh, to affordable housing groups and others who don’t really have the expertise already for how to do a project and we help make it happen.
Richard Jacobs: Right. So, um, any examples of, uh, of projects, really specific ones that you’ve helped shepherd and you know, what happened? What have they done for the community?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, sure. A few projects that we’re particularly proud of. One of them is, is a campaign that we’ve been working on over the last three years to bring solar to affordable housing cooperatives here in New York City. There are a lot of buildings here in the city where, uh, they’re income-restricted, uh, affordable housing, but the buildings are actually owned by the residents. So we work with partners, in northern Manhattan who is working with, we act for environmental justice and then working with a citywide organization called you to have, to basically organize these buildings and help them get solar installed. Since we started that program, we’ve helped 20 HDFC cooperatives. These affordable housing cooperatives get solar installed. We’ve used a variety of different financing mechanisms, a bunch of creative ways to bring the benefits of solar to the shareholders, to the, uh, individual apartments. We’ve also integrated workforce, training, job placement into those projects. So we worked on a campaign with a, we act for environmental justice in northern Manhattan. We organize the first multifamily solar purchasing group in the country and so we got a bunch of buildings to go solar at the same time, jointly selected a solar installation company. And because of that, the solar installer was getting a bunch of solar projects rather than just a one-off. Alright. They were willing to hire job trainees from, from the neighborhood. So we have folks that, uh, who are looking for work, come through our training program that we do with act and then, uh, get hired right out of the program to learn to install solar in their neighborhood.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Is this a residential solar or commercial solar?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, those were multifamily projects. So, uh, definitely I guess you could, you could call it residential, but it’s, they’re larger than, uh, what you might have on a suburban home. Um, and then another project that we’re particularly proud of is a project that we’re doing with UPROSE, environmental justice group in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Financing a group called the Co-op power, which is actually a consumer energy cooperative. And, uh, that project, Sunset Park solar is a large community shared solar project. So, um, community shared solar is a little bit different than a standard rooftop project. Normally most folks think to benefit from solar, you need to put it on your own roof. Um, community solar actually makes it possible for me. I’m a renter. Um, I, I live in an apartment, um, with community solar I can sign up to participate in a solar project, a large solar project that’s on a warehouse roof somewhere else in the city.
Richard Jacobs: By the way, like that’s I haven’t asked you. What if I’m, um, you know, there’s a building with like 20 units in it. Do you approach the owner of the building and then if they say yes, he wants solar, how do they work it out with the tenants? Like what’s an example of that?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Normally when we work with building owners, those owners are really focused on offsetting the common area electricity. Just cause those are the bills that they’re paying. So they were just, those bills, they save money. Community solar is different. You can put a big community solar project up and then really anybody who is an electric customer, that utility, um, can sign up for the project and for us, that’s exciting. Again, as a nonprofit, our mission is to expand access to solar and when you think about who has access to solar well until community solar, literally no renter could benefit from solar. So, we’re excited about community solar cause it makes it work for renters. When we think about who could really use the savings most, um, here in the city where so many folks are rent-burdened you know, we just think reducing the cost of energies is really important. So the sunset park project is one where, the city actually put out a request for proposal saying who wants to put a big solar project on our roof, on the Brooklyn Army terminal and we put together a team to respond to that with our long-time part partner UPROSE and Co-op power. Um, and the way that we structured that project, um, we were selected by the city and we’ve negotiated a term sheet and that project is moving ahead full steam, uh, slated for installation later this year. And that project has a bunch of really exciting attributes. It’s big enough to serve about 200 households. Um, and UPROSE is going to be doing all of the community engagement and finding folks that want to participate in the project. It’s really going to be local. So that sunset park neighborhood. So there they’re recruiting at the grocery store, they’re recruiting, uh, members who are already engaged in their various initiatives and working through local, uh, houses or houses of worship. And, um, so it’s really a community effort. And, um, when folks sign up to participate in that solar project, not only are they gonna be buying solar energy at a discount, saving a bunch of money on their electric bill, um, they’re also going to become a member of the cooperative. Um, so with thought power, we’re starting the New York City community energy co-op and UPROSE is really helping to build that through their recruitment of, uh, folks in the neighborhood to participate. Um, there are a lot of benefits to cooperative ownership. Um, just beyond the utility bill savings. This co-op we think is going to be a really powerful platform for developing future energy projects and giving a lot of local control over how energy is generated and consumed. Um, and then last but not least on that project, uh, we’ve, the solar installation company that we’re working with, Seven70 Electric has agreed to hire six local residents, uh, that is going to come through our workforce training program to work on the installation. So that’s just sort of another added benefit of that project and we’re excited about.
Richard Jacobs: What do you mean when someone has ownership in it? Do they, uh, ownership meaning they get a certain percentage of the electricity generated from it forever or ownership meaning like they resell it to someone else, they get the percentage of profits or you know, like what, what do they own?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, so their subscription will entitle them to a discount at solar credits where it, the discount is, is going to be somewhere between 15 and 20%. Um, and so they’re going to get that discounted energy and that’s their subscription for as long as there is the utility service territory, they can bring it with them and they move all that. Um, so that’s, that’s there. But when we talk about community ownership, really the idea is that they are going to be a member of the cooperative that actually owns the system. So the cooperative, um, will be the sponsor of the solar project. And as a shareholder in that cooperative, they’ll have a vote over what’s done with, uh, any profits, uh, if the project or to generate a, you know, an operating profit and operating surplus, uh, the, the cooperative and its members would decide what to do with those funds. They put it into, uh, you know, reserves. Do they do a disbursement, a dividend to all of the shareholders based on their equity? Um, do they take those funds and, and use them to start their next, uh, energy projects? Um, so it’s pretty dynamic what that, how that’s actually going to look. But the idea is that by most typically solar projects and even community solar projects are financed by, uh, by companies that are really looking to maximize their return on investment, which makes sense. That’s the normal business transaction. That’s a good thing. Um, but from the perspective of the environmental justice groups that we work with and a lot of the, uh, the neighborhoods that we’re working in, there’s really, uh, it’s really a priority to develop projects in a way that maximizes local benefit and doesn’t allow anyone to sort of profit off the project. Um, so with the cooperative ownership structure, you kind of guarantee that the project is, you know, really operated in the not for profit basis, uh, which allows the collab to maximize the benefit for the participating households.
Richard Jacobs: Do you have anyone that wants to participate and you know, not get the discount and have that, you know, I guess Phantom money rolled over so that you can invest in another project?
Noah Ginsburg: That’s interesting. We haven’t proposed that yet. We’ve had a lot of, uh, interest. We have a lot of, uh, folks that are signing up. And, uh, if you’re listening to this and you, you live in Sunset Park, uh, it’s not too late. You can, you can still sign up. There are spaces available, but, um, we’ve been promoting it as, as a 15 to 20% discount. Um, I guess in theory, uh, you know, a few years down the road, the Co-op could vote to, um, to increase their own rates. Um, they would be able to do that. I don’t, um, I don’t foresee that happening, but, um, yeah, I mean it’s, this is one of the, um, the exciting things about having sort of local democratic control over energy is that these ideas are possible. You know when you look at a typical, a solar project development model or traditional energy service companies and how they operate, uh, consumers don’t really have that much power. And this is really flipping that on its head. And I’m putting the consumer in the driver’s seat.
Richard Jacobs: No, I mean, what, any drawbacks to solar? Um, yeah. What do you do at night? Do you have solar batteries to store energy? Is it really only for the day when the offset comes? And what about in the winter? You know, when there’s not a lot of sunlight or as much.
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, those are really good questions. Those are, that’s a really good question. So, um, when you install solar, um, or you sign up for a community solar project, uh, at least in, in New York and in, in most places, um, you’re not, you’re still gonna get a lot of your power from the electric utility. Um, but the way that it works is that you’re going to get during the, during the day time, in the summer and spring, you’re going to get more solar energy than you consume and you’re gonna build up credits that you can use at night and on those cloudy days and in the winter. So typically when you sign up for solar, um, or you put solar on your roof, you’re really looking at your annual electricity usage and you try to get close to offsetting that, your annual usage. It might be that in December you’re still getting most of your power from the utility, but then in April and May, you’re probably actually producing more power than you’re consuming. Oh, so the idea is that balances out.
Richard Jacobs: That’s what I was gonna say. So like, yeah, I guess to be funny, I’m not literally getting the electrons generated at the solar facility. I’m getting them from my utility company. And so is it, is this how it works that you generated the solar power? You sell it back to the electricity company. The electricity company says, all right, now we’re going to credit this person 15 to 20%. They’re still getting the power literally from us but there’s that credit because you sold some back to the grid. Great. It’s not literally the power you generated that the person’s using. Is it?
Noah Ginsburg: That’s right. So if I sign up for a community solar project, uh, you know, five miles away from, from where I live, those electrons are not going to be sent to my house or my apartment. Um, they’re going to be sent out onto the grid and they’re going to be used by whatever the closest appliance or load, um, kind of consuming energy is. And then really that’s, um, on the back end, the utilities managing the accounting and making sure that credits are distributed. Um, so when you sign up for a community solar project, really what you’re, what that community solar project owners doing is there, they’re allocating a percentage of the solar that’s generated to you and then they tell the utility and utility manages the credits.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Do people know that? Do they care?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah. You know, I think part of, part of what we do, um, when, when folks sign up for community solar for the various projects that we work on, as we educate them and we answer these questions, um, we, we really want to make sure that there, that folks know what they’re signing up for and that they’re, uh, that they’re on board, um, and, and, and really get it. Um, and again, I think that, uh, one of the things that I think is, is great about community solar is that there’s a real project in your local utility that’s producing power and you get a portion of that power. So there are a lot of green energy options where you’re buying a hundred percent wind or a hundred percent hydro. And what that really means is that there’s an energy service company that’s buying renewable energy credits from wind farms in Idaho or um, you know, old hydroelectric plants somewhere else in the country. Um, this is really local. Um, and, and anyone who signs up is really making a meaningful contribution because the solar project really can’t happen without folks participating.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. That’s interesting. How do you know when a, when a project is, um, sold out? Yeah. Let’s say you know, your Brooklyn Facility, uh, can produce the equivalent of power for a thousand units. Do you have a, you know, do you go up to a thousand subscribers and you’re done? Or can you go more subscribers? They just, I mean, they just get the, I don’t know, maybe they get a lower rate of return or something. Like how does it work?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah. So if there’s more interest in a project than there are slots available. Um, most solar project developers will maintain a waitlist. Um, so that when people do decide to move away from New York and you can, you can bring your subscription with you if you move within the city. But if you move to Canada, you know, you have a different utility, you can’t bring your subscription. So, uh, these projects, we typically maintain a waitlist and um, something that we’re doing at solar one for or here come solar program is we’re working with a lot of different groups that are developing projects. We have some that were very involved in like the sunset park solar project. Um, and like another, uh, low-income community solar project we’re doing with a utility here, Con Edison and the New York City Housing Authority. So we have some projects like that where we’re really driving it. Um, and then we have other projects where we’re really just helping, uh, connect folks to those projects. So, uh, you know, if one project fills up, don’t despair there, there are many more. And we see community solar as, uh, an area where there’s going to be a lot of growth over the next several years. So, uh, for folks who are, who are interested, now’s a really good time to sign up or at least to learn more information and we think there’s going to be more opportunities in the future.
Richard Jacobs: So I see the attraction, you know, it’s local again, solar, renewable, et cetera. What about the, uh, units or the homes that sign up for the project? Do you also encourage them to install, you know, additional energy-saving type devices? Maybe nest, let’s say to, you know, to reduce their, uh, their other bills when they’re out of the house or do you try to take it further and try to integrate them even more into a renewable system?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean we’re very supportive of, of energy conservation and um, you know, efforts that, that where folks can, uh, reduce their utility bills. Um, absolutely. And, and when we work with buildings, um, for, for like if we’re working with an apartment building, um, and we’re helping them look at solar, we’ll also refer them to programs that’ll help them look at energy efficiency for the whole building. Um, and let me work with an individual who signs up for community solar. Um, yeah, I mean what I’d say is absolutely, you know, LEDs and anything that you can do to reduce your energy consumption is, is a positive for the environment positive for your wallet?
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. I just didn’t know there are different levels in the program. Because the people that sign up for the program probably are people that would be much more predisposed to these other things about them save energy and to reduce their carbon footprint. There just seems like a natural progression to say, Hey, you know, you want to take this further. Here are some other relationships we’ve developed with, you know, again with like, I don’t know, I’m just throwing out names like a nest or whoever it is to further reduce your energy bill and to further help people.
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, no, it’s a great point. And you know, our program, I’d say we were doing that at the building level and we could definitely be doing more of it at the, at the individual renter level. So if you’re listening to this and you have a solution that can help renters reduce their energy bills, ah, reach out.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. And then, um, as, as again, if I was the owner of the building like you said, you know, I paid the bill for the common space electricity, but does it work economically? You know, let’s say again, I had a, you know, a 15 unit building and I put solar in the whole thing. Does it work numerically for me to do that? You know, would my apartments then be more attractive to people where you know, now they have a no electricity bill and maybe their rent goes up slightly, but they still get some benefit. Is there a way for that to work mathematically?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah. I think that’s a really smart model. We’ve definitely, we’ve done a lot of solar projects where solar’s going on the roof and it’s distributed among apartments, but typically it’s in a Co-op building where the Co-op kind of represents all of it. You know, everyone’s an earner. So, uh, there’s no sort of misalignment of incentives. Um, we haven’t seen that too much for, uh, for rental buildings, although I’m certainly with master metered rental buildings where the landlord is paying an electric bill for everyone and that’s a metering them, in that case, the landlord, you know, really benefit from putting a big solar array on the roof. Um, so there, there are a lot of ways to do it and a lot of the work that we do through the here come solar program is we work with building owners to help them figure this stuff out and figure out what’s gonna make the most sense for the configuration of their building, for their metering, for their financial situation.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Very good. Well, no, I appreciate you coming on the podcast. Um, you know, again, people local to you, how can they take action and then people non-local what if they want to talk to you about collaboration or you know, gets more information or visit a website. What kind of resources for both groups?
Noah Ginsburg: Yeah, absolutely. So first if you’re based in Sunset Park and you want to sign up for the sunset park solar project, visit sunsetparksolar.org. If you are a New Yorker or in North Jersey and you’re interested in solar for your building and you want help or you’re a renter and you want to sign up for a community solar project, you can check out our website herecomessolar.nyc and if you just want more general information about our organization, you can visit solar1.org. That’s Solar, the number one.org.
Richard Jacobs: That’s great. Well, no, thanks for coming on the podcast. I appreciate it.
Noah Ginsburg: Thanks.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
How do you become a top 1% communicator in your industry? Brenden Kumarasamy, the Founder of MasterTalk joins the podcast today to discuss how he has been helping… Read More
Pain is a complicated and subjective experience that varies greatly from person to person. Arguably one of the most significant human health problems, pain is a signal from… Read More
What does it mean to be a man in today’s society? How can God’s vision for men come to fruition? Life and marriage expert Jerry Jacobs Jr. joins… Read More
In this episode, we discuss pollution from tire particles with Dr. Kelly D. Moran, a Senior Scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute. With over 18 years of… Read More
How do the microorganisms that live in us, on us, and around us influence our biology? Joseph Bruckner joins us today to discuss the gut-brain connection, and how… Read More
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Get The Latest Finding Genius Podcast News Delivered To Your Inbox