New loan funding helps property owners increase energy efficiency

A $3 million boost from a national foundation may soon help make local church pews and nonprofit offices a lot more comfortable, and a lot more energy-efficient.

It's an innovative new approach to making energy-efficient upgrades profitable for both loan recipients and lenders that local leaders hope illustrate that the market for conservation-minded upgrades is both robust and profitable. The effort is a partnership between three nonprofits: Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, the Cincinnati Development Fund, and the Calvert Foundation, which typically invests in real-estate secured loans and has never before invested in Cincinnati.

The new initiative, called the Better Buildings Performance Loan Fund, leverages federal and foundation money to offer loans at competitive interest rates; the loans must support building investments that increase energy efficiency, says Al Gaspari, GCEA finance director.

While GCEA's focus to date has been on helping homeowners with energy-efficient upgrades, this new initiative expands its role in the region.

"We're initially targeting nonprofit organizations and multi-family dwellings," Gaspari says. Churches, arts organizations and schools rank high on the list of prospective loan applicants. He offers a practical example of how the program can work: An inner-city church with a 60-year-old furnace could apply for a loan, invest in a new energy-efficient furnace and save 20 percent on energy costs. In addition to the monetary savings, the new system could make existing spaces accessible year-round--even during hot summer and cold winter months--thus allowing for expanded programs and services.

"From our perspective, our grant is not dollar-in, dollar-out," Gaspari says. "The goal of our grant is to get people involved and lower their initial risks."

For lenders flirting with the idea of investing in energy-efficiency, the new fund provides a potential sustainable model. "Our overall goal is to show that there is a market for these loans and show that they do perform," Gaspari says.

While the new fund is not yet up and running, he says the GCEA expects to underwrite loans, which will be offered through the Cincinnati Development Fund, before the end of 2012.

As part of the fund, the GCEA will track the energy savings that improvements allow. For investors at the Calvert Foundation, the forward-focused program offers a chance to invest in a program that ultimately conserves energy, reduces pollutants and saves money.

Gaspari and his colleagues see this win-win-win approach as an opportunity to show financiers the wide-ranging benefits of planet-friendly investments.

By Elissa Yancey
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