SANTA ROSA -- Five years ago, co-founders of Santa Rosa-based Ygrene Energy Fund were trying to drum up local support for an innovative large-scale financing program to encourage real estate owners to embark upon energy-saving retrofit and renewable-power projects. And today Ygrene is leading a nationwide commercial property retrofit endeavor backed by a billionaire, a large investment bank, a high-tech manufacturer and two re-insurers and targeting $650 million in initial Sacramento- and Miami-area projects.
Ygrene, started by Alan Strachan and Dennis Hunter to help municipalities set up project financing programs for property owners that would be paid back via voluntary property-tax assessments, is leading a group consisting of Carbon War Room, a San Francisco-based nonprofit started by Virgin Airways founder Richard Branson; Barclays Capital; Lockheed Martin; Massachusetts-based energy industry re-insurer Energi Insurance Services; and Energi's Germany-based parent, Hannover RE, the world's third-largest re-insurer.
"All this means we can produce loans with very, very high credit ratings, even in this environment," said Mr. Hunter, Ygrene's chairman and veteran of the local banking and real estate development industries.
The group, called the PACE Commercial Consortium for the increasingly used property-assessed clean energy financing model on which it's based, on Sept. 19 said it plans to offer $550 million in retrofit financing in Miami-Dade County in Florida and as much as another $100 million in Sacramento area.
"The PACE Commercial Consortium is the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle for cities looking to implement green plans," Mr. Branson said in the announcement.
This consortium has been in the works for more than 18 months, as part of Carbon War Room's Green Capital Global Challenge, according to Mr. Branson. That effort was launched at the 2010 Winter Olympics to pull together billions of dollars of private money for local government-directed energy-efficiency programs such as PACE. Challenge Director Murat Armbruster brought the consortium members together at the nonprofit's Creating Climate Wealth North America Summit this past May.
PACE-style financing programs have started in 26 states as well as Australia, New Zealand and potentially next year in the U.K. Yet major barriers for cash-strapped local governments have been program startup costs, a large enough pool for funding projects and packaging financing for sale on bond markets. That's where third-party PACE financiers such as the consortium and San Rafael-based Clean Fund are moving in to help.
"These investments are 100 percent private capital," said Brian McCarthy, Energi's chief executive. "There is no government debt or cost involved. The markets can supply this financing because the economics are sound, engineering performance is insured, the security is strong and clean energy capital assets are profitable."
Mr. Branson estimated the global market for green retrofits of commercial and industrial properties is $1 trillion. "There is simply no other source of economic growth with these characteristics," he said.
A Ygrene subsidiary in Florida earlier this month signed a contract with the Miami-Dade town of Cutler Bay to set up and administer a PACE financing program there as the starting point of a "Green Corridor" tax district in the county. According to the company, Miami and four other municipalities want to join the district.
A Sacramento-area PACE program is going to the City Council for consideration on Tuesday. Other cities in Sacramento County and the adjoining county of Yolo are considering participating. Ygrene has received serious interest from government officials in San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago and Montgomery, Ala.