2021 Benefit Breakfast Spotlight: 5 facts about featured speaker Donnel Baird!

By |

On October 14, Fresh Energy will once again bring together Minnesotans virtually for our annual benefit breakfast—which is an event known for convening diverse, leading voices in the clean energy space. This year, we are thrilled to be welcoming nationally renowned thought leader and clean-tech entrepreneur Donnel Baird as the keynote speaker at our Virtual Benefit Breakfast.  

Donnel is the founder and CEO of BlocPower, a Brooklyn, New York-based climate technology startup that is making American cities greener, smarter, and healthier. Since the company was founded in 2014, BlocPower has retrofitted more than 1,100 buildings in under-resourced communities across the New York City area, with projects underway in a total of 24 different cities! Read more about BlocPower and their current programs and projects. Not familiar with BlocPower or Donnel? Check out these five facts:


Under Donnel’s leadership, the BlocPower team has retrofitted more than 1,100 buildings in New York, leading them to expand into Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

Most of the 5 million medium-sized buildings in the U.S. overuse energy and have dirty and out-of-date heating and electrical systems, which contribute to increased air pollution. Studies show that living with air pollution is linked to higher rates of lung disease, especially among communities of color, indigenous communities, and under-resourced communities who are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards caused by zoning, redlining, and other discriminatory policies. BlocPower provides engineering, financial knowledge, and custom analysis to retrofit city buildings and determine the best ways to reduce energy use, ending by connecting each project owner with lenders who help finance the project.  

Donnel goes by the name “Turning Buildings Into Teslas” on Twitter—and the catchy phrase also happens to be BlocPower’s tagline.  

The BlocPower team has grown exponentially over the course of the past few years. Meet the full team. Photo/Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

BlocPower uses proprietary software for analysis, leasing, project management, and monitoring of clean energy projects that save customers between 20-70 percent on annual energy costs.  The retrofit opportunities BlocPower identifies in under-resourced communities create high-paying clean energy jobs, healthier air and living environments, and invaluable neighborhood investment. 

Donnel is committed to increasing Black leadership in the business and clean energy worlds.  


BlocPower launched while Donnel was still an MBA student at Columbia University. He actually skipped one of his final business school exams to give a presentation at the White House! Donnel walked out of that meeting with a $2 million contract from the Department of Energy. But when he began fundraising, Donnel felt like an outsider in the mostly white and affluent worlds of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. He kept at it, learning how to work within the systems that have historically excluded Black men and women and other people of color. Today, BlocPower leverages those experiences to improve anti-racism efforts in the financial and business industries.  

Donnel’s deep experience in the Brooklyn, NY, community motivated him to improve energy efficiency and access for under-resourced communities across New York City and beyond. 

Donnel grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn that had a dysfunctional HVAC system. Because the landlord wouldn’t fix the problem and Donnel’s family couldn’t afford to move, they stayed—using the oven to heat their home despite knowing the health and safety risks. Donnel has dedicated his career to ensuring that no other family must make that choice, launching BlocPower in 2012 to bring clean energy and clean energy jobs to under-resourced communities across the New York area and beyond. 

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Duke University, Donnel became a community organizer and later joined the Obama for America campaign as a Regional Field Director and Constituency Vote Director.  

Once President Obama took office, Donnel continued to work on green job creation as a consultant for the Obama administration and several labor unions, including Change to Win Federation and Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Donnel left the public sector in 2011 with the idea that eventually became BlocPower. He has an MBA from Columbia University and sits on the board at many New York institutes, The Sunrise Movement, and The Sierra Club.

“BlocPower is electrifying buildings much like Tesla is electrifying cars. By eliminating their use of fossil fuels and making them smarter and healthier, we’re increasing the health and wealth of building owners and occupants and creating economic opportunities in underserved communities.”

Donnel Baird, BlocPower founder and CEO

With his deep experience in community organizing and advocacy, as well as his expertise in energy and business, Donnel is proving that climate injustice, economic recovery, public health, and racial inequity are all linked, and he’s adamant that green building technology is the antidote, offering scalable solutions for responding to the interconnected challenges we face as we build a clean energy future. Fresh Energy is thrilled to welcome him as our 2021 Virtual Benefit Breakfast Keynote Speaker. Join us this October for more!  

Thank you to our event sponsors!

Title Sponsor

Innovation + Technology Sponsors

Match Pool Sponsors
Bird and Randy Anderson
Bremer Bank
Grid Catalyst
Mark and Kate Hanson
Hayden Family Fund
Ralph Jacobson and Cynthia Bartoo
Will and Claudia Kaul
Kristin Kelly and Jamal Knight
Sarah F. Lang Fund
Kevin Lawless and April Egan
James P. Lenfestey
Cotty Lowry and Laurie Jacobi
Mike Menzel and Kathy Iverson
Jan and Rick Neville
Michael and Patsy Noble
Chris O’Brien
Eric and Dana Pasi
William and Markell Rahr
Raj V. Rajan and Kavitha Sitaram
Federico and Nassim Rossi
Venkatesh Srinivas
VanSteenburgh/Ladner Family Fund
Kate Wolford and Ed Reilly
Mary Woollen and Clark Heindl

Visionary Partner Sponsors
Atomic Data
District Energy St. Paul
Ever-Green Energy
Houlihan Lokey
IPS Solar
Xcel Energy

Clean Energy Champion Sponsors
Apex Clean Energy
Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy
Conley Family Foundation
Connexus Energy Foundation
Design 45
Minneapolis Foundation
Chuck and Candice Nadler
Old National Bank
Sunrise Banks

Friends of the Future Sponsors
All Energy Solar
Best Buy
Blue Horizon Energy
CED Greentech Minneapolis
Cogent Consulting PBC
Elevation Communications
EVS, Inc.
Larkin Hoffman
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
New Energy Equity
Nokomis Energy
SPIRE Credit Union
Stoel Rives LLP