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Expert Voices: Donnel Baird of BlocPower

Photo illustration of Donnel Baird surrounded by electricity bolts.

Photo illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios. Photo: courtesy of BlocPower

This week we're talking with Donnel Baird, founder and CEO of BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based company focused on electrification and building efficiency.

Why he matters: BlocPower has particularly focused on lowering energy costs, cutting emissions and reducing health impacts in underserved communities.

  • The approach has gained traction: The company had raised more than $95 million as of January, per PitchBook, including a $30 million investment from the Microsoft Climate Fund.

What in your view was the big story in clean energy/climate tech this week?

  • Obviously passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, and the role that climate-tech funders like Bill Gates played in “lobbying” Sen. Joe Manchin, and the slate of incentives and investments contained in the bill. Everyone is slowly digesting what was actually in the bill, and how we implement it. 

What would you add to the narrative?

  • Congress has done its part. Now, the Biden executive team, the private sector and state governments need to do their part to ensure effective implementation. What lessons can we learn from the 2009 Obama-Biden stimulus, with regard to on-the-ground implementation? What worked? What didn’t?
  • I spent a short time in D.C. The model there is to pass the laws, get the money out the door to the states, check the box as the money goes out, and move on to the next political or policy fight.
  • The states and the private sector and philanthropic sector need to implement. And, to be blunt, we will need quite a bit more collaboration and thoughtful planning to pull off effective implementation. 

By contrast, what is going under-noticed?

  • Reducing energy costs and health care costs — which result from exposure to fossil fuels in our homes and neighborhoods — are core parts of the climate component of the bill.
  • Those policies, if they work, will help Americans navigate inflation and increased costs. The reduction in chronic childhood asthma that this bill will facilitate is not being talked about enough. 

In three-ish words, what change would you make to clean energy/climate-tech investing?

  • More Black/brown women climate-tech VCs. The current state of climate tech is trash, when you look at outcomes. The planet will burn unless this gets fixed. 
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