Financing Strategies for the Race to Zero Energy

Our fourth and final “Race to Zero Energy” session was held at Google’s Pittsburgh Office in Bakery Square on August 25. We heard presentations about financing opportunities and strategies from project team members and funders. These experts gave insight into different types of loans, grants, and other funding that they use or provide for their sustainable projects, followed by a question and answer session led by Cindy Malinchack of Philips.

Race to Zero - Session 4: Financing Strategies

Paul Carter from The Efficiency Network (TEN), explained that TEN creates innovative technologies and financing solutions in order to reduce energy consumption. He provided several examples of their work, including a 40% reduction in energy and water consumption of the United Steelworkers Headquarters Building (which helped them earn LEED certification!) and an upgrade to the manufacturing facility at Shumman Manufacturing. These projects were made possible in part by grants like the Alternative & Clean Energy (ACE) Grant Program, the PA Department of Environmental Protection grant (for small businesses), and several manufacturer rebates.

Bridgeway Capital’s Matt Madia gave insight into the financing opportunities that his company provides. He explained that their double-bottom line (social and financial) model lends itself well to the company’s focus on sustainability rather than profitability. Matt noted that the impact of this model has been extensive — 990 loans totaling $118 million have been lent, including $14.4 million in loans for enterprises headed by African Americans and $31.3 million for women-led enterprises. These loans represent over 8,000 jobs created or retained in the Western PA region. Bridgeway Capital provides several types of loans, including permanent working capital loans (which differ from traditional bank loans and have several advantages for borrowers, like longer-term fixed-rate interest) as well as grants to subsidize socially valuable and sustainable projects.

Todd Riedbord of Walnut Capital brought the perspective of a project team member through his work on Bakery Square 2.0. This site, which started as a brownfield, was developed with the help of a smattering of funding sources. In fact, Todd proposed that the catchphrase for the project’s finances should be “one of everything!” Because this project was a mix of public infrastructure development and private development, the sourcing pool could be broad and diverse. Local funding came in the form of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) from the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The project also received state-level grants like the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Grant, the Multi-Modal Grant, and the Greenways Trail Grant.  A federal grant from the Economic Development Administration Department of Commerce was also provided. Additionally, Bakery Square 2.0 received funding from ERECT Funds (a building trade union), local banks, and private equity funds.

We heard from West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund’s (WPPSEF) Joel Morrison on funding for sustainable energy projects. WPPSEF works in parts of Allegheny County to support high performance projects that are designed to meet standards like Energy Star, LEED, Living Building Challenge, and Passive House. Their loan structure is customized to suit the needs of each project, but loans must be secure. In addition to their customized loans, WPPSEF offers some bridge financing and provides grants to nonprofits (including GBA!) for their projects.

Finally, Jenni Cooper and Dave Thomas from the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) clued us in to their Business Energy Savings Program and several projects they have helped finance. Jenni explained that the program, which is open to any business within Pittsburgh’s city limits, can provide loans of up to $50,000 to companies that are willing to meet one of the following three criteria:

  • Conduct a third-party energy assessment of the project
  • Pledge to join the Pittsburgh 2030 District

This program is different from most of the URA’s offerings because it is a stand-alone program rather than a public-private partnership. Some examples of Business Energy Savings Program projects include a new ENERGY STARTM HVAC system for the Smallman Galley in the Strip District, and a renovation including a living wall for Thick Bikes in the South Side. Dave rounded out the presentation with a final example of the URA’s work: they helped retrofit several parking garages with new lighting fixtures, which has resulted in 55-68% in energy savings for each of the garages. He also mentioned that the best way to use savings like that is to invest them in more upgrades and energy-saving projects!

When financing an energy-saving or sustainable project, a plethora of funding options exist. Thanks for joining us in the Race to Zero Energy!  Check out summaries from the first three sessions, here (Session 1 on Passive Strategies), here (Session 2 on Technologies and Products), and here (Session 3 on Renewables).

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