One Major Thing LBNL’s “Energy Efficiency Program Financing” Technical Brief Doesn’t Tell Us (and Several Surprising Things it Does)

Earlier this week, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) released a technical brief, “Energy Efficiency Program Financing: Where it comes from, where it goes, and how it gets there.” Financing specifically refers to capital that is used to cover project upfront costs but then paid back over time (unlike rebates or other incentives). This characteristic of financing programs also makes them ideal tools to amplify the impact of limited amounts of public funding for energy efficiency, by recycling the funds as they are repaid for further projects, and by using the public funds to attract greater amounts of private capital.

The research highlights several intriguing (but expected) takeaways and a few surprises, but bypasses one key insight.

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Financing Energy Efficiency for Municipal Electric Utility Customers in North Carolina

Here at the EFC, we are always looking for ways to support the sustainable financing of energy efficiency for communities around the country, including in our home state of North Carolina. In the Old North State, electricity customers are generally served by one of three kinds of utilities: Investor-owned utilities (IOU’s), co-operative utilities (co-ops), and municipal electrical utilities (munis). As part of the EFC’s energy and sustainability financing programs, we are now working on the Rural Community Energy and Economic Capacity Building Program, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI), to research and develop ways to help electricity customers in three small towns in northeastern North Carolina to have greater access to energy efficiency (EE) financing alternatives. Two of these three towns have their own municipal electric utilities.

This brings us to the key questions of this blog post: What are utilities already doing in North Carolina to promote and finance EE for their customers? What other alternatives exist? And why does this matter in the first place?

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More Federal Funding Available to Grow Clean Energy Small Businesses

Back in September, the School of Government’s Community and Economic Development in North Carolina and Beyond blog highlighted a new program from US EPA to work with small businesses nationwide to develop and commercialize technologies that tackle critical environmental problems:  the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.  Now the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has launched its own program to assist small businesses, the Small Business Vouchers (SBV) pilot program.  The Small Business Vouchers program links small businesses who promote clean energy technology with the DOE National Laboratories.

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Six Keys to Improve Your Water Utility’s Credit Rating – A Cheat Sheet

Water and Wastewater utilities receive “credit ratings” just as a private individual has a FICO® score. While organizations like the Fair Isaac Corporation calculate personal credit scores, for entities like local government utilities, the three groups that generate credit ratings are Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s (S&P). For the utility, a higher rating means better access to credit, and at more favorable terms.  S&P published the criteria it used for “Water, Sewer, And Drainage Utility Revenue Bonds” in 2008. To say that things have changed with the economy since 2008 is an understatement! In 2014 S&P solicited comments on its re-worked methods and assumptions for calculating these credit ratings. The new criteria will result in credit rating changes to 1 in 4 utilities (of the 1,600 utilities that S&P rates). Some ratings will go down. How can your utility be among the 200 that will have a higher credit rating?

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Four Steps of Effective Project Management

As the Assistant Program Manager at the UNC Environmental Finance Center (EFC), I work ‘behind the scenes’ on internal projects related to the every day management of our center. In my role facilitating organizational development at the EFC, I recently spent time researching project management best practices. At the EFC, we help communities design, implement, and finance sustainable environmental projects and programs, and not surprisingly, strong project management structure is often a critical component of any sustainable program. While some of this research was specific to the EFC, many of the lessons I discovered are broadly applicable, whether you’re working for a small water utility or a statewide initiative.  Through this post, I would like to share four easy steps to streamlined project management for any size project.

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