The solar energy switch was flipped on Sunwheel Energy Partners' first set of affordable housing projects in California at the end of January.

The solar installations at three affordable housing developments in San Francisco—Plaza East Apartments, Hayes Valley North, and Hayes Valley South—not only will save McCormack Baron Salazar, the developments' general partner, and residents money, but they also provided much needed jobs for 26 unemployed residents as well as others from the surrounding community.

Founded by members of affordable housing owner and developer McCormack Baron Salazar about a year ago, Sunwheel's mission is to go beyond housing and into sustainability and renewable energy to help urban neighborhoods.

“We view ourselves as a missionoriented solar developer. In some sense, it's where we choose to operate that sets us apart—urban neighborhoods and low-income communities,” says Jonathan Goldstein, president of Sunwheel. “We're not just creating renewable energy and savings, we're hiring residents [who live in the developments] and the community into the job force, giving job training in the green [field]. There's no better place to do that than in low-income neighborhoods.”

Sunwheel closed financing on the San Francisco developments as well as eight others in California in September. The three San Francisco projects are the first to come online, with the rest planned for sometime in the first quarter of 2010.

The renewable energy firm fi- nanced the installations with a combination of federal tax credit programs and state and local rebate programs, including New Markets Tax Credits, solar investment tax credits, California Solar Initiative's Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing program, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., and GoSolarSF. These projects implemented the state's new virtual net metering tariff, which allows the cost savings to be shared with the residents.

Approximately 374 kilowatt hours will be produced annually, also saving about 225,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

David Mauroff, Northern California area manager of McCormack Baron Ragan, the developments' property management firm, says one priority from the start of the project was job creation, which he adds was a catalyst to the success of the installations.

Mauroff says the project created a sense of ownership in the residents and helped to prevent crime and vandalism at the job sites.

He adds that many of the residents had not been used to working, but now they know they can do it and have pride in a job well done.

At the end of the installation, a luncheon for the workers was held at the local One Stop center, an employment warehouse designed to connect individuals with jobs and basic life skills. Only a couple of blocks from Plaza East, many of the workers had never been there, but now can get access to more job assistance. And a few of the workers have continued to work with the solar installer, Real Goods Solar.

“Green technology and public housing don't usually go hand in hand,” says Mauroff. “When you live in a place that doesn't get a lot of attention, it's great when the spotlight is on you and people are investing in where you live.”

Sunwheel is working with other affordable housing developers and public housing authorities around the country.

The firm has partnered with the St. Louis Housing Authority to work on solar projects around the city and plans to work on solar-outfitted new construction in Memphis and Miami.