Residents, businesses in Black communities struggle to afford transition to green energy technologies

Created Equal

BROWNSVILLE, Brooklyn — The dedicated congregation of the historic Bright Light Baptist Church in Brownsville, Brooklyn never wavered in their conviction throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but they did have a different issue: the heating.

Pastor Eddie Karim, who came to Bright Light two years ago, streamed virtual Sunday morning service this past winter from the lower level dining hall instead of the upper level main sanctuary. It was just too cold because of an extremely old oil-based heating system with a 1,300 gallon tank that is too big, yet woefully inefficient.

“We turned it into a winter chapel,” Pastor Karim said about the dining hall. “It gets warmer down here.”

The system costs the church thousands of dollars every winter season, and still leaves a chill in the air.

“Still, with all that, it still don’t get enough heat,” Pastor Karim said.

It’s a problem faced by houses of worship, and countless homes in under-served communities, including Brownsville.

Brooklyn native Donnel Baird, CEO of the startup BlocPower, is doing something about it at Bright Light.

“Far, far too many people in Black and Brown communities, and certain low-income white communities, have been left behind economically,” Baird said. “So they haven’t been able to afford the initial high prices of some of these green energy technologies. We’re working with our global manufactures to bring those prices down. We want people to not have all their money going out to these utility bills, and wasting payments for fossil fuels.”

BlocPower has already retrofitted every single one of the church’s lights with high efficiency LEDs.

The company is on track to help Bright Light replace its entire HVAC system by this fall.

“We’re gonna rip out that old, oil guzzling system, and replace it with a modern, smart, healthy system,” Baird said. “We’re going to save that church money. We negotiate the pricing discounts with the manufacturer, with the construction company, with the banks: we’re a trusted party that brings all people to the table, and tries to get to a deal that’s gonna work for everyone.”

BlocPower has green projects in the works in 26 cities across the country bringing high efficient energy systems to congregations, organizations, and private homes in under-served communities, which otherwise may have never made the switch.

It’s a strategy that fits in line with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stated goal of the Empire State obtaining 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030; one of the ultimate goals: reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

In New York City, 70 percent of emissions come from buildings, according to Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN-NY, an organization working toward sustainability.

“When we have a federal administration that believes that climate change is an issue, that’s a big first step,” Silva-Farrell said. “We can actually see the funding coming into our state to be able to provide support to those communities so that they can actually do those upgrades, because not everybody has the funding to do so.”

At Bright Light Baptist Church building in Brownsville – which, in its former life served as a synagogue, Pastor Karim said his small, but growing congregation is excited about the future – and letting go of the past.

That includes that basement furnace.

“Ya know, to get off of these fossil fuels, it’s time for her to retire. It’s only fair that she get a chance to retire,” Pastor Karim said. “The church has spent so much money to fix this leak here, fix this problem there. She’s served well. But there’s a way, a more efficient way of supplying heat for the congregation, and we can’t wait for that opportunity.”

The upgrade will also benefit the church’s finances.

“That’s a major part: there’s not a congregation who is fueling their church by oil that will not be able to benefit from the conversion to high energy, efficient system,” Pastor Karim said. “It’s just the way of the future.”

There’s an added bonus to the kind of HVAC upgrade BlocPower is performing at Bright Light Baptist Church. CEO Donnel Baird says the new equipment’s filtration system also has the ability to remove COVID-19 from the air.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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