Why Small-Scale Investment Matters for Communities, Local Economies and Investors


By Jess Brooks

A colleague recently shared with me a copy of E.F. Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. The book, originally published in 1973 energy crisis, is often considered the inspiration for the “buy local” and “fair trade” movements. In it, Schumacher argues that we need to stop treating natural resources (like fossil fuels) as expendable “income,” and start treating them more like capital – necessary for growth, but equally important to conserve and build. The core message of the book, that we need to build our economies not around the needs of corporations, but around the needs of people, feels as timely and relevant today as ever.

Small is beautiful. Invest as if people matter.

Those messages get to the heart of what Sunwealth is trying to do. We see real value in the small-scale solar projects that mainstream financiers have overlooked – the rooftops and underutilized lots you see as you walk through your neighborhood. Value for communities – measured in energy savings and access to home-grown, locally-produced power. For local economies – as measured in job years and revenues created for local solar developers and installers. For the environment – measured in carbon reduction and the clean air that comes from non-extractive clean energy produced by the sun. And for investors, as measured in reliable returns quarter after quarter from an investment you can understand and feel good about.

As we wrap up 2018, we take pride in seeing those small investments add up into something bigger.

We have now invested over $15 million in more than 70 small-scale solar installations across 8 states. Those projects will generate more than $9 million in lifetime energy savings for our power purchasers – houses of worship, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, schools and municipalities – for whom those savings really matter. They will reduce carbon emissions by over 140,000 metric tons – the equivalent of taking close to 30,000 cars off the road for a year. And they will help create 185 job years and over $12 million in revenues for local solar developers and installers.

Growing with purpose and intention yields far-reaching results.


Partners like Dan McGrath, the founder of Malden-based United Solar Associates, who has helped install solar on the rooftops of Greentown Labs and Maxwell’s Green apartments here in Somerville, provide a good example. Dan started the company out of his attic, with a vision of building a business that could support his family doing work he was proud of. Eight years later, he employs more than 30 people – skilled electricians, engineers, project managers, warehouse managers and office staff – many of whom got their start as MassCEC-sponsored interns. Dan talks about the importance of using skilled labor – and providing his employees with union wages and benefits – as well as the need to offer entry-level employees an opportunity to build a career. He remembers how people took a chance on him early on in his career, offering him “that opportunity, the space to grow, the chance to prove myself and expand my capabilities – and now I try to do that for others as well.” Today, he talks not just about providing for his family and those of his employees in the present, but also about building a legacy, something he can leave behind.  

Learn from experience and translate that learning into action.


We have built a community of partners – local developers and installers, power purchasers and investors – and a track record of helping them achieve measurable environmental, social and financial returns. In 2019, we will look to expand on that experience by more than doubling our Solar Impact Fund to grow our impact.

We are invested, in every sense of the word.

December is a rush in the solar industry. Everything speeds up as developers and installers work to complete projects before the end of the month – to take advantage of daytime temperatures that are still above freezing, beat the snow and ice that comes with New England winter, and capture the tax benefit for investors that only comes with a project that’s fully commissioned by quarter-end.

In the midst of it, we take a moment – just a moment – to catch our breath and give thanks to the many partners who make our work possible. We reflect on the values we bring to bear on this work, and on the value that we are creating together. We are grateful for your partnership. And we look forward to working with you to build something really great.

Happy holidays. May 2019 bring you and yours peace, prosperity and plenty of sun.

About the Author

Jess Brooks is Chief Development Officer at Sunwealth. When she isn’t meeting with prospective investors or writing blog posts, she serves on the boards of Generation Citizen and First Teacher and is proud mom to two young boys.

Jon Abe